Become a valuable, relevant resource

"The times they are a-changin'." Intended to describe the massive cultural upheaval of the '60s, the lyric has found a new home with today's media industry.

“The times they are a-changin'.” Intended to describe the massive cultural upheaval of the '60s, the lyric has found a new home with today's media industry. During the course of the past few years, but especially over the last 365 days, the stalwarts of information – newspapers, magazines, and TV – have been shaken by the online crush of 24/7 newsfeeds, blogs, and social media.

In the 2009 PRWeek/PR Newswire Media Survey (see p. 11), the impact of the “new media” environment could not be clearer. Journalists fear for their jobs (42% expect to see reductions in staff), anticipate continued declines in print circulation (62%), and are considering leaving the profession altogether (50%).

Additionally, journalists who are still working feel more pressure to produce (70% indicate a heavier workload than a year ago), contribute to multiple sources (68% must write for the online site and 28% for the publication blog), and deliver content that, in part, buoys ad sales (56% of print and 43% TV media feel a slight to heavy influence).

For PR pros, the volatility within the media industry and across the entire communications landscape offers numerous opportunities if one is willing to accept that the traditional approaches to pitching and PR strategy might no longer apply.

Journalists know they are competing against myriad information sources for their readers' attention. PR pros must also accept this and adjust their practices to avoid having their clients' messages swept into the endless wash of Internet noise.

Now, more than ever, relevance is a concept that PR pros must embrace. According to the results, the vast majority of pitches (71%) have little or no relevance to what the media professional covers.

PR pros have to recognize that reporters have less time to decipher pitches for relevant information. Thus, it is imperative to know the reporter's audience before initiating any outreach. Are you intimately familiar with the publication? Can you provide answers and resources at a moment's notice? These are questions that must be considered well before any outreach occurs.

Additionally, PR pros should try to build their pitches around angles that align to the title's demographics. As noted in the survey, reporters feel pressure to write stories that will attract eyeballs and boost ad revenues. Tweaking a pitch to suit a particular demographic could make all the difference.

The means for gauging the value of a journalist's work are also changing. Increasingly, public reaction is how a story's impact is measured. PR pros should understand this, not only for approaching reporters, but also for building “secondary markets” in coverage. Engagement is key.

As journalists navigate a tempest of shrinking budgets, increasing responsibilities, and general uncertainty, PR pros can serve to distinguish themselves – and in turn benefit their clients – by being relevant, value-adding resources. Establish yourself as a informed source of relevant information and ideas, and reporters – and your clients – will keep coming back for more.

Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire's VP of distribution services.

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