More PRs than journalists? It's coming true, and it could be a nightmare

This month we found out from the Office for National Statistics' 2015 Labour Force survey that there are now 55,000 PR professionals in the UK - that's up almost 50% in two years, writes David Benigson of Signal.

David Benigson
But the number of journalists has fallen 9% to 64,000. At this rate, it won’t be long until that fated day where PRs outnumber journalists in the UK. 

We hear regularly that in the US there are 4.6 PRs to every journalist (US Department of Labor), and the UK looks set to join this trend.

And while the new stats from the ONS represents the first real comparison we’ve had in the UK, commentators such as Roy Greenslade have been arguing for some time that the number of PRs is greater than the number of journalists. 

While this can be taken as a sign that the public relations industry is flourishing, it seems to me that this is bad news for PR. Obviously it’s not great for journalists either - fewer jobs available means fewer opportunities to move onto or up the ladder, as publishers continue to struggle to drive revenues. 

With a higher ratio of PRs per journalist, the already-busy hack will have more pitches to contend with than ever before, so PRs need to step up their game. While this should mean that the cream rises to the top - both the PRs themselves and their clients - it could spell costly failures for a lot of agencies, unable to achieve the same levels of coverage as before on a consistent basis.

Agencies need to mitigate for this, and make sure they can continue to offer value to clients, so they will have to diversify to survive.

Increasingly, PRs are going to be unable to pitch journalists just part of a story (the part that their client represents) but entire stories instead - all of the context and background information required to build a complete narrative. Of course, taking a holistic view of how the whole media landscape works, rather than just considering the interests of their clients, is something good agencies should be capable of. 

While some agencies are employing former journalists in order to improve their storytelling skills, using software and sophisticated alert systems to keep on top of the nuances of the media is also necessary for all agencies.

With the demand for content greater than ever before, agencies need to be aware of the kinds of stories and topics that are performing well at any given point in time so they can be creating the right ideas, and pitching the right content. 

As ever, agencies need to think creatively about how to get their clients coverage and to actually be successful at this.

Editors and audiences aren't going to accept any old rubbish. The agencies that can meet this need and produce high-quality work that meets the editorial standards of their target media will be the only to survive.
David Benigson is chief executive of Signal

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