Managing Director, Hill+Knowlton Strategies, Germany
Chief Creative Strategy + Innovation Officer, Germany
Hill+Knowlton Strategies, Germany
The pandemic has accelerated technological adoption across industries and caused the most sudden shift in human behavior in recorded history, yet media relations remains stubbornly resistant to innovation. A recent poll of journalists revealed that all things being equal, they’d rather you send them pitches by email. On Tuesday mornings, if possible. But there is disruption amid stagnation, and therein lies hope for progress; the wholesale technological revolution how how people communicate offers many ways to bring media relations into the digital age.
There should be no question that the old ways of doing things do not fit the new structures. For starters, the public, once a coherent audience easily understood, segmented, and reached, has now gone largely underground, fragmenting itself into underground conversations on Facebook Messenger, private groups on Linkedin, and WhatsApp threads. A 2019 survey found that two-thirds of those under 30 prefer talking in private groups rather than on open forums. In fact, 38% of what is soon to be the largest generation in human history only uses Facebook as a private messenger app. When it comes to being able to have a public conversation, social media has become anti-social.
The fragmentation of the online audience into private chats and closed groups has profound impacts for the news media, because social networks are where Gen Z and millennials get their news. Almost all millennials (88 percent) read news on Facebook, followed by YouTube (83 percent), and Instagram (50 percent). And when they get their news from social media, 70 percent of them are getting it on mobile devices.
If social media platforms have become the new news networks, algorithms are taking it to the next step by tailoring the news content you see. The evening network news united us all. Then it was the story everyone was sharing on Facebook. Then it was the link your friend posted in the WhatsApp chat thread with your relatives on your mom’s side. Now it’s just you, getting your own, private news broadcast in their own, private bubble.
Meanwhile, the biggest innovation in the media relations business has been that we’ll now email reporters a pitch instead of calling them on the telephone. To remain relevant to the news media and drive messages inside those private bubbles, public relations needs to take the technologies and learnings evident elsewhere in the strategic communications industry and apply them to media relations.
Use AI To Predict Clicks
We all know the tools that model audience engagement by predicting and identifying patterns in audience behavior. We now are able to apply this to media relations as well. It is not revolutionary for us in other walks of this PR life to have a data-informed focus on an audience; now we can apply this practice in our pitches to the media. Journalists are judged internally by how their stories perform. Imagine pitching a reporter not just the facts of the story but an AI-informed prediction of how the story might perform. We have this capability now, we just need to use it to level-up our expertise in media relations.
Be Your Own Outlet
Second, with the means of production and distribution at everyone’s fingertips, create a B2H solution – instead of B2B, it’s business-to-human – by realizing that you are effectively your own media outlet. The only question is whether you are taking advantage of this fact. This is especially true of internal communications. Your brand should be the best source of information about your organization for all the brand ambassadors you call employees. Keep in mind that every single one of them is probably in a private text thread or closed group on social media. They are your way into private conversations that people are having online about you.
Make VR a Reality
Immersive technologies are rapidly moving from a novelty to a must-have. In 2016, AR and VR were a combined $5.2 billion industry. This year it was headed to a $162 billion year, and the companies leading that charge are widening that lead during the pandemic. Immersive technologies have huge utility in media relations. Newsmakers and the news media are increasingly using it – The New York Times released its NYT VR app in 2015 to tell stories about child refugees, exploring Antarctica and Pluto, and the Hiroshima bombing. The United Nations has a virtual reality film series to promote its programs. PR companies use virtual reality in marketing campaigns; why not in media relations by offering virtual press tours?
Apply Metrics to Media Relations
Marketing has gone from a cost center in public relations to a profit generator. Why? Because we can now measure what we do. Communications and media relations should follow suit by taking those functions out of their silo and integrating comms metrics into the entire business model. Communications is what links people, customers, KOLs, stakeholders, brands, and products – and now we can measure what it does. Doing so would unlock the trapped value in communications.
Google AdWord ads are already created automatically to a large extent. Big publishing houses like Forbes, Bloomberg or the Washington Post use AI to write articles and to support people in writing text, and to provide reporters with first drafts or templates for news stories. The creation of high-quality content with high reach and interaction rate is not achievable for many companies. AI solves this problem. Knowing how to do this shifts the balance of power in the fight for attention towards those who have adopted these technologies and integrated them fully.
COVID has accelerated the digital revolutions underway in banking, retail, and nearly every other industry that now includes communications as well. The great leap forward in media relations has begun.