The radio world has been rocked by iHeartMedia’s recent announcement about nationwide layoffs in small markets. The layoffs were needed, the company said, as it transitions into online and other audio formats, and added that the numbers were a fraction of the company’s 12,500-person staff.
As Rolling Stone reported, the cuts were reversed at one station, Iowa’s KXNO. But iHeart’s decision is one more example of news deserts being created when local media are nationalized. And the trend has significant implications for PR pros.
First, fewer local programs means fewer opportunities for pitches tied to local news and events. If 50 local market shows are replaced with one national program, it means there are 50 fewer shows to pitch. In some markets, multiple programs have been slashed. As a result, hyper-local PR firms are far more disadvantaged than regional or national firms.
KXNO host Andy Fales told Rolling Stone that "running nationally syndicated programming…without a local DJ talking about local events" takes away people’s "reason to keep shopping" with that station.
Of course, entrepreneurs will find a way to fill the holes left in the market when local radio shows are nationalized. But the new content will often be supplied in unusual and hard-to-measure ways creating a fragmented market that is more difficult for PR pros to reach.
"The iHeart cutbacks, in the short-term, will make garnering local coverage for clients more challenging for PR professionals," said Pinkston Group partner David Fouse. "We must constantly be looking, exploring, and perhaps innovating new ways to reach audiences."
Uriah Kiser, the publisher of the Virginia-based Potomac Local, an online local news portal for Virginia’s Potomac communities, is one of those entrepreneurs.
"Can’t-get-it-anywhere-else information makes people feel connected to their neighborhoods, and they’ll go to great lengths to get it," he said. "As major media shrinks and gets out of the business of local, public relations folks aiming to reach new audiences [must] learn what new communities and outlets have sprung up that pertain to them."
As the largest radio network in the nation with 5.5 % of the radio market, iHeart is clearly doing something right. However, much of their broadcast and online growth has come through acquisitions, and radio advertising isn’t what it used to be.
Cutting local programming, local advertisers, and local listeners seems strategically unwise, especially since more American adults listen to AM/FM radio than any online platform, including the financially desirable Gen X demographic.
But it also makes the job of PR pros even more unpredictable and difficult.
Dustin Siggins is the founder of Proven Media Solutions.