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The Demise of Publishing And Its Impact on PR

Ken Gaebler

Demise of Print Media and Publishing Industry, Impact on PR Firms
Today's Brainteaser: What Do Newspapers Have in Common With Dinosaurs?

The demise of publishing has been discussed ad nauseum. The underlying story, as you've heard time and time again, is that newspapers are dying, magazines are struggling, and the printed word is quickly going the way of the dinosaur.

So, here we sit at our Chicago PR firm, where a big part of our job is getting our clients mentioned in the newspaper and in magazines. Yikes!

The problem for PR firms, as you might surmise, is that the possibilities for getting a print placement are dwindling. Newspapers and magazines are folding, or getting drastically thin in short order (in a way that would be very unhealthy if it were a human losing weight so quickly).

What's a PR firm to do in light of dwindling opportunities to secure PR placements in traditional print media? Here are five things we think make sense for us and PR folks everywhere:

1. Up Your Game. With fewer opportunities for PR placements, the competition has gotten fierce. The crappy pitches that plague our industry are going nowhere fast. To do well, you've got to put together better, more thoughtful PR pitches that will rise above the noise and bad pitch pollution that is a plague on journalists everywhere.

2. Be More Helpful. Guess what happens when a newspaper staff gets cut by 50%? Typically, each journalist's workload jumps up by 25% as the publication tries to do more with less (while doing less in total at the same time). If you've got journalist friends who are still employed, you may have noticed they are a little grouchier than usual. That's because they are overworked, i.e. more overworked now than they were before. So, you need to be a friend in need and a friend indeed. Pull together sources for journalists and background information as part of your pitching, so it will be easier for the journalist to write the story. You'll gain a placement and a friend in the process.

3. Build Your Relationships With Journalists. Speaking of making friends, now is the time to push the pedal to the metal on your efforts to befriend journalists. Take an inventory of journalists you have relationships with and rate your relationship as Weak, OK, Strong or Very Strong. Now, put a companywide initiative in place to a) expand the number of relationships, and b) improve the quality of your relationships. This is extremely important now, in light of the big challenges to the media, because reporters will be more likely to go to trusted sources for story ideas, given that they are so short on time. They don't have time to work with strangers and vet them as being quality resources.

4. Play the New Economics To Your Advantage. With lower full-time staff, media outlets are increasingly using freelance journalists. Whereas in the past, if you wanted to get a placement in, say, the Los Angeles Times, you might only have pitched full-time employees, you need to change that mentality. Read the paper religiously and find out who their freelancers are, then seek them out and court them. By the way, transforming your PR firm into a freelance journalism entity is also not a bad strategy. In other words, start cranking out bylined articles for your clients and submitting them to magazines as no-charge, contributed articles. If the content is good, budget-challenged publications will run it. However, don't be too aggressive in doing this because karma will get you; for every free, contributed article you submit, you're taking money out of the pocket of a freelance journalist. After all, PR people and journalists need to keep our symbiotic relationship intact, so we've got to watch their backs while watching our own.

5. Go Where The Eyeballs Are. While it may be true that newspapers and magazines are thinner these days, the number of fully-functional eyeballs on Planet Earth is holding relatively strong. Those eyeballs may not be looking at newspapers as much, but you can take that negative news in stride by simply refocusing your efforts elsewhere. So, your (obvious) job is to get your clients placements in the new venues where people are scanning, reading, conversing, watching, listening, texting, Tweeting, etc. Get your client in front of those eyeballs…wherever they are. (Read How Social Media Is Changing Communication for more info.)

So, I'm not writing this with the intention of nobody hearing it or thinking about it. If you've read this far, take part in the discussion by leaving some comments below. If you own a PR firm or are an independent publicist, how is the demise of publishing impacting you? How is it changing what you do? What other actions do you think PR firms should be taking in these challenging times? If you're a journalist, what do you think about all of this?

Let's get a good discussion going and see what comes of it.