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  • Jonathan Tudor

The meaning of media needs to change

Our media cheese has moved again - it’s been moving a lot in the PR world over recent years as digital has forced us to look at communication in a different way.

Then came COVID-19 and an acceleration to this change - many in the PR world have placed digital in the “just another channel” box, but it’s more than this, especially now.

A few years ago I established a digital PR agency to combine marketing automation with the traditional skills of public relations. With a business partner we concluded the time was right for the messaging and story-telling value of PR to be delivered accurately and directly to an interested and already engaged audience, and then measured. To us, PR’s role was fundamental in the sales channel and we used a software platform to manage the process.

Using PR to sell felt like a logical step, alongside its usual roles of protecting reputation, profile, awareness, understanding and all the other fantastic benefits of great communication. And putting some science in the mix seemed comfortable and refreshing.

The overwhelming response to our due diligence was “fantastic idea.” A few clients arrived but the early promise has been muted. And this is where it has stayed until the C-word hit.

Then the question - was this proposition too early? After all, at that time everything in the world of marketing and communication was running like a sewing machine, so why was there a need to think differently?

Not any more - everything needs a rethink now, and quickly. COVID-19 has changed everything - the cheese is out the door.

The biggest shock for me has been the impact on the media: the demise of Bauer Media, journalist job losses (I’ve read 450 since March), the closure of RadioSport (the cricket, oh the cricket!), the knives being drawn between Stuff and NZME, and no support for an independent media in the recent Budget.

For many years the media has been condensing - the effect has been a subsequent lack of resources to cover sometimes even the most important societal stories, let alone those plied by PR professionals.

So with the media changing, our understanding of the word “media” also needs to evolve - most importantly for PR, the practice of media relations needs a major rethink.

Print, online news, radio, TV has been front and centre throughout my public relations career - the Fourth Estate in all its glory. Building journalist relationships and pitching stories has been one of the most important aspects of the profession. And it’s fun; the selling, negotiating, the rebuff, the repitch and seeing coverage, the mark of a job well done.

However, this field of cut and thrust is shrinking simply due to a diminishing platform.

The media is under incredible pressure and PR professionals can no longer see it as a main channel through which to achieve our carefully thought out and proposed objectives.

It will always play an important influencing and business reputational role, but just not in the same way as it’s been in the past.

So I’ve started to look at the word “media” in a different way, as the plural of medium, a middle state or condition, or something intermediate - in PR terms this refers to the pathway from a company to its audience, wherever they are and however they are absorbing information.

Organisations will always need to communicate - that won’t go away, as they need to grow knowledge, understanding about products and services, and sell. It’s the method to reach an audience that is changing, and this is where it is necessary to consider the word “media” in the widest possible sense.

Social media is the most obvious extension and is very effective. Businesses also need to think more about the media they control, including websites, blogs, newsletters, EDMs, video, podcasts and emails to connect with their community.

Think also about paid media, including sponsored content, paid search and advertising. For PR people, in the past paying for space has been tantamount to sinning but now it’s an essential method of building an audience, leads and customers.

How to reach an audience when the traditional media is no longer the number one realistic option is a key question every PR person should be asking?

Instead of media relations, wider stakeholder relations is now front and centre, where the media is key but not pre-eminent.

Ultimately, to reach audiences all companies need to become their own media companies. The formula EC = MC or Every Company is a Media Company, created by Tom Foremski 15 years ago, seems more relevant now than ever.

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