#TheInterlocker: The role for PR & comms in a shrinking media landscape
by Emma King (@emmainsa) One of the many fallouts of the covid-19 pandemic has been the devastating impact on local media platforms, publications and outlets. As PR and comms professionals, what does that mean for us? Lerato Tshabalala, Donald Kau and Libe Mohale respond.
We’ve already seen the demise of many household and dearly loved magazine brands here in South Africa, with newspapers and other publications struggling due to drastic drop in ad revenue. Add to that continued loss of revenue from local platforms to global giants such as Facebook and Google, and the future looks bleak. If much of our value to clients is from our perceived ability to place media stories, what happens when the media landscape keeps on diminishing? And how should we be working with media partners in a time like this, when they are doing all they can to keep their heads above the rising waters?
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In the year 2000 I moved to Cape Town to go work as a junior writer at Fairlady magazine. My 20-year career would soar like an unstoppable meteor. Yet we all know that every meteor has to crash at some point. I remember being in a boardroom while I was editing Sunday Times Lifestyle and being told “digital is coming”. Let me tell you something, digital came and destroyed media as we knew it. Since then, I’ve made a career in advertising and I’m watching the same thing happen here, now. Agencies are closing down because clients are in financial crisis.
As we speak, many organisations are trying to apply Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle — which encourages leaders and organisations to start with why they do business instead of simply stating what they do. But change requires more than a nicely formatted PowerPoint presentation. People want a brand with a purpose. The days of the product-efficacy ramble are over. And, because PR and media are inextricably linked, working together to pivot in the face of an everchanging media and advertising landscape is key to the survival of both disciplines.
There are no definitive answers but, as a start, PR practitioners need to move their clients from traditional media to digital platforms; we need to put money behind online television platforms (the most-recent episode of Red Table Talk had more than 12m views within 24 hours of going live on Facebook); and we need to rethink how to engage the media in this time of social distancing and virtual meetings.
More importantly, we all need to start thinking of how we may be useful to society. Usefulness is the only bridge to relevance. Brands are going to have to find their hearts. The story has changed… It’s time to be brave.
For as long as I can recall, I’ve always loved a good story written well. I love good journalism wherever I can find I; I recognise it when I read it. It is sharp and insightful, and consistently so, and is delivered in a compelling package — something that was absent in many of the magazine brands that we’ve seen die off and disappear from our shelves. I’ve been surprised that so many had seemingly survived on such small readership numbers.
The truth is that many media outlets gave up on good journalism and great writing a long time ago: content that regurgitated material that you could find elsewhere, originality had long been missing and then the move went to spending more on packaging than what was inside.
Luckily, the media landscape hasn’t diminished; instead it’s spread out and is reaching more-diverse audiences packaged in multimedia formats. What we have to contend with is quality reach than quantity and this is a good thing, because the growth of digital and online platforms also offers deeper and richer engagement, and it’s the consumers who then spread the message if they like it.
This is more credible. It’s not the job of the PR practitioner to help platforms keep their heads above water. It’s the job of a channel to carve a path to an audience and cultivate it, providing opportunities for a story to live on multiple platforms. For the PR practitioner, we need to then supply not just editorial or brand content but be accessible to assist journalists in getting access to every other angle they need for every platform. It’s a point of pride for me to not just offer a media release but also, for example, to allow access to behind- the-scenes on projects, video and photography shoots, as well as to key decision makers for interviews.
For the PR practitioner, the returns to look for are those where a publication offers multiple platforms to reach the consumer and which will work hand in hand to shape the content. This means that media partners which invest in subscription, paywall and member services, over and above relying on advertising spend, can offer a marketer an audience that is targeted and measurable. A media partner with a strong brand and reputation, along with these new tools, becomes an invaluable partner to marketers. It’s our role, then, to embrace and support publications as they move in this digital direction.
The media industry has always found a way to keep up with our everchanging society’s needs. This may be seen with our resilience to constantly find effective ways to communicate, market and advertise to our audience. Reinvention should be part of the plan, thus making sure that we’re positioning ourselves to be relevant and take up opportunities in the market. This was highlighted through digital platforms experiencing an uptick in activity even though economic activity has stalled [during lockdown].
To reach the masses, technology should be at the forefront. Whether it is through apps, webinars or existing platforms that have a vetted presence of traffic, how we communicate to the audience has to change. So, if traditional media doesn’t work, we have to find alternatives, keep our ear on the ground, find out where the population’s active and what they’re embracing and take it from there. Moving to digital is something we’re not new to but the rate of change and required response are what makes the process a bit uncomfortable.
It’s our responsibility as PR and communications professionals to continuously adapt to the changes that impact our industry. Whether we like it or not, we’re in an era of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR), where the adaptability of innovation and technology is vital if we want to remain relevant in this fast-changing industry.
We should be working with the media and helping them adapt by adapting to their platforms and offerings. We need the media as much as they need us for content, so this means we have to create new digital strategies that attract our audiences and therefore keep their lights on. It sounds like a catch-22 but it’s definitely something that time and adaptability can influence positively.
The same way PR professionals need to take responsibility, media houses also need to follow the agile digital journey. There’s no survival in one keeping one’s head above rising waters; however, it’s about coming up with strategic ways to avoid drowning completely and this applies to all stakeholders in the media industry. This has to include becoming more in tune with Generation Z and their media consumption habits, which are deeply digital.
- Columns | #TheInterlocker – Emma King
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Emma King (@EmmainSA) is the founder and managing director of The Friday Street Club (@TheFridayStClub). She specialises in communications strategy, consumer and brand marketing and PR, corporate comms, crisis and issues management, and writing. Emma contributes the resurrected column, “#TheInterlocker”, in which she picks a PR/comms-related subject and invites other marketers and PRs to discuss, to MarkLives.com.
This MarkLives #CoronavirusSA special section contains coverage of how the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and its resultant disease, covid-19, is affecting the advertising, marketing and related industries in South Africa and other parts of Africa, and how we are responding. Updates may be sent to us via our contact form or the email address published on our Contact Us page. Opinion pieces/guest columns must be exclusive.