Witness this piece in a recent edition of Bulldog Reporter, “Media Relations Is Dying. Here’s Why PR Folks Should Celebrate.” As someone who has worked with news media for many years, I was sucked in. The author makes the case that, with today’s digital tools, we can reach our target audiences without relying on news media.
While he’s right that communicators have many new and powerful tools for connecting with customers, forging relationships and building brands, he’s dead wrong about the demise of media relations. PR pros who believe otherwise do so at their clients’ peril.
The truth is, traditional journalism isn’t dead—though it’s certainly evolving. In a recent survey from Pew Research Center, people’s reliance on network and local news sources, primarily broadcast, showed increases in recent years. There’s also significant growth in digital news sources, particularly local and nonprofit models, while cable and newspapers continue to erode.
Taking the message directly to consumers through sponsored content—a topic I tackled previously—brings a healthy dose of skepticism, with only about a third of people taking interest in native ad copy as did normal content, according to a Chartbeat survey.
That’s not to say the Fourth Estate doesn’t have a trust problem. In fact, according to a 2014 Gallup poll, Americans’ trust in mass media has been on the decline for well over a decade.
So what’s the takeaway?
There’s a difference between letting go of a dying practice and killing it prematurely. The news media remain a powerful, effective and still largely trusted means of sharing information with an audience that prefers that third-party lens. What’s more, when faced with overwhelming sources of information, the public still turns to the news media to sift through that material and provide perspective. That makes them a valued communications partner. What’s more: Absent honest, genuine and robust media relations, PR pros will find themselves at a big disadvantage when their client is on the wrong end of a news story.
True, the direct-to-customer tools at our disposal bring wonderful opportunities to connect, build relationships and generate dialogue. But the wise PR pro uses every tool to communicate—or more precisely, the right tool for the right job. That’s why the death of media relations is, as Mark Twain would say, greatly exaggerated.