The 'dark side' needs to embrace the media - our futures are intertwined

H+K Strategies Dubai senior consultant Scott Armstrong says it is vital PR and the media work together to safeguard the future of both industries.

H+K senior consultant Scott Armstrong had a 30-year media career before joining the Dark Side.
H+K senior consultant Scott Armstrong had a 30-year media career before joining the Dark Side.

The first step, they say, to fixing any issue is admitting there is a problem, often the biggest, hardest leap to make. Admitting to oneself that something needs to change can be difficult.

So, as a journalist and editor who has ‘crossed the floor’ into communications, here’s a quick assessment.

The media industry in the Middle East is struggling, dying in some cases, there is no silver bullet which can solve the issue, and sustainable journalism needs a hero, or at very least an advocate.

Something needs to change. That’s where we, the Dark Side, can and should help.

Oh yes, you are the Dark Side if you didn’t know. To be more specific, if you work in public relations or communications you are, or so say many of the journalists and editors you’ve ever worked with.

After 30 years in the media, I now am the Dark Side too. I was surprised to discover there were colleagues in my new life who didn’t know their profession had long been associated with that villainous force from Star Wars.

So, you are Darth Vader or a Stormtrooper. Good, own it, cool mask by the way.

The media industry is fighting to stay afloat in a perfect storm comprised of many winds. The rise of digital has fragmented audiences into a million splintered pieces and, while titles were still struggling to adapt to this monumental change with all the speed of a tectonic plate, Facebook and Google sailed in and netted all the advertising revenue. This is the commercial lifeblood of media businesses and the thing that keeps the lights on as far as journalism is concerned.

That is the tip of the iceberg, the problems within the media’s business model go way deeper, but let’s focus on what we can see.

Why should we care in communications care? The often sneered at Dark Side? Perhaps I’m biased, after three decades as a journalist a deep abiding love for the media still burns, I believe it’s vital we help it survive.

Our industry is built on for key pillars, paid, earned (the media), shared and owned. If journalism falls while their businesses try to figure out a sustainable business model, then our industry loses a key foundation for our own success. How are you finding getting journalists to attend your events? Getting harder?

Why not just focus on shared and owned instead? It’s less messy than dealing with journalists, less risky too. Indeed, social media and brand journalism are important, effective tools, but our clients need somewhere to talk to genuine audiences outside of the filter bubble of their own existing followers.

Independent journalism with all its pros and cons from a pure PR perspective still matters, it provides a platform for credibility and trust that cannot be bought programmatically.

The media may see a divide between themselves and us, we may be the Dark Side, but now more than ever we need to work together. And yet somehow it feels like we’ve never been further apart, and that also holds true, I feel, for our clients and the media. There are frustrations on all sides but, like it or not, our fates are intertwined.

We need more than the Entente Cordiale that exists as we each separately go about our businesses. It’s time for a deeper conversation, a better understanding of each other’s values and talents.

It may be too soon for a #hugastormtrooper campaign, but let’s start talking.

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