Spare me the premature obituaries - media relations is very much alive and well

Another year, another premature obituary for media relations. It's become a rather predictable stock-in-trade of the PR commentariat to pronounce with great solemnity that media relations is, if not dead, then most certainly on life support.

I read a different story [to that proposed on Friday on PRWeek by Robert Downes] that tells me how the industry is moving on and how the core of what we do has changed.

In my experience, the truth is that quality coverage in target publications is as important as it ever has been. Far from media relations dying, it is in rude health – a more skilled, creative and indispensable part of the communications toolkit than ever before.

In some ways, the circumstances for today’s media relations practitioners are more propitious than ever.

We are constantly told that the number of journalists and publications is falling. Think about the number of times we have been asked to send pictures to a paper because their one staff photographer is not available or a journalist prefers a written interview than a spoken one to save them time.

As numbers dwindle, the savvy PR practitioner who can pitch a compelling story, provide engaging pictures and rustle up a memorable soundbite at a moment’s notice becomes all the more indispensable to news outlets faced with the insatiable demands of a deadline-driven, 24/7 news cycle.

Social media has not reduced the appetite for quality journalist- and PR-driven content. Indeed, in an era of ‘fake news’, quite the reverse is true. It is still the tier-one articles in major reputable media outlets that are the most shared, liked and circulated on social media, and which help shape the terms of public debate. A powerful article in a mainstream media outlet resonates far wider than it used to.

As long as there is a public demand for quality journalism – as there surely still is – then the media remains an important, significant channel for ensuring an organisation’s name and messages are seen and heard.

Most people in our industry now realise that this is not about volume, but quality. One good piece of coverage can go far further than it ever has, as can one negative piece. The premium on good media relations is very high and the cost of bad media relations is even higher.

The rhetoric about the death of media relations peddled by some PR practitioners doesn’t match the reality. The clear majority, surely, still spend most of their time on media work. You only need to look at most of the recent PRWeek UK Awards winners to see that there is normally a media relations element and that more often than not, this remains the focal part of the campaign.

We need to innovate in our media relations. Ten years ago I would never have thought of texting a journalist content, now I have colleagues who have continuous dialogues with journalists over WhatsApp.

Nobody is, or should be, saying that media relations is the be-all and end-all of PR. Of course, the comms 'toolkit' has expanded in recent years to include social media, stakeholder engagement and much more besides.

There is no contradiction in being aware of, and alert to, these exciting opportunities to reach our audiences in a cost-effective way, but putting media relations as a poor cousin of more modern parts of our industry would not be an accurate reflection on the reality. 

Shimon Cohen is chairman of The PR Office

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