Media relations is not what it once was. The rise of digital has permanently changed the landscape and this, in turn, has left traditional media fundamentally altered.
However, those who think the relevance of media relations is slipping have got it wrong. Why? In today’s post-truth world, objective, evidence-based editorial content is more important than ever.
True, the old-school top-down, one-to-many approach to communicating good stories and burying bad ones has been upended by the spread of fake news and rise of social, hacking, and influencers. Also, there are many more channels for people to choose from, as well as the tools to routinely curate their own news feeds and content.
Despite this, traditional media still has a critical role to play; a role that in an era of endemic misinformation and outright disinformation is more crucial than ever. For proof, look no further than the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, when accurate and independent factual reporting was in high demand. During the pandemic, The Reuters Institute Digital News Report found that broadcasters such as the BBC, ITV, Sky News and Channel 4 were most trusted by the public, followed by broadsheet newspapers.
Working with journalists to share stories precedes the earliest days of public relations, which has the overarching objective of optimising how you relate to your various audiences, be that customers, employees, shareholders or the fourth estate.
Yet, despite its longevity, media relations is still often misunderstood.
For a start, rather than being synonymous with PR, media relations is just one component of it. Instead of being a way to paper over a reputational problem, it is one part of a strategic approach that can be used to help solve business problems. By attracting attention at the top of the marketing and communications funnel, it plays an important role in a client’s stakeholder relationships.
Nor is it just a one-way street. Best practice means sharing information and supplying materials that the journalist and their consumers are looking for. It also means acting as a good partner by behaving responsibly. This, in turn, builds trust.
There is also another fundamental misunderstanding of media relations, and that is related to a perceived decline in value. The rise of social, the price of paid media, and the ability of digital to target with such accuracy, have led to a perceived decrease in the relevance of traditional media.
When you add into the mix that traditional media organisations have adapted to digital and are successfully creating, and monetising, cross-platform multi-channel content while still remaining relevant, you can see why many assume media relations is dying.
However, the death notices are wildly premature. The story is that media relations continues to evolve, and integrated correctly, it can still deliver significant value.
So, how should organisations approach media relations? There are five key steps to making it work.
View media relations in context
This means thinking of media relations, not in isolation but within the context of a total marketing mix, with earned media complementing paid, shared and owned as part of a sophisticated, integrated, multi-disciplinary strategy.
It involves truly understanding how the media landscape is shifting, which changes are most important, and how best to use those changes to optimise your media relations.
Embrace data, data, data
Deep audience understanding should inform media relations activity according to the aim and intent of an organisation’s broader communications strategy.
But data should also be used to optimise your media relations once live.
This means upgrading from a linear, start-to-finish plan to a circular approach in which data is gathered along the way then used to evolve and enhance what you are doing iteratively, in real-time.
Understand modern media organisations
Success depends on how well you tell a story across multiple platforms, optimising each to its best advantage.
Those who do this well understand what a modern media organisation needs to be successful and what content will work across that organisation’s entire portfolio of platforms and channels.
It’s about thinking beyond the single story you are hoping to sell on one specific day.
Move media relations upstream
Media relations is a strategic tool, and therefore must be a foundational element as campaign strategy is conceived.
As a key component of PR, media relations should be considered as far upstream as possible, too, rather than just as a bolt-on to any single execution.
Consider up front how you want your story to be told as a piece of editorial coverage, giving it the same weight you would give to your brand content, influencer engagement or advertising campaign.
Address legacy weaknesses
For clients, this means addressing historic, legacy attitudes that lead to media relations being positioned, and viewed, as purely a tactic. For agencies, this means consult, educate and collaborate.
As excellent storytellers, media relations experts should flex their muscles to create stories as part of integrated channel agnostic strategies to meet a business’s many challenges.
Much has changed, for better and worse. The world has also grown more complex, which is why the smartest organisations aren’t looking back to the past. Instead, they’re looking to the future and the strategic role that media relations should play as part of a broader integrated approach to deliver impact.
Jim Selman is Partner & Managing Director at Allison+Partners.