How has shrinking media space affected PR?

A quick question. How many of us are actually sitting down with a physical newspaper or magazine since COVID-19? Much less than before, given the revenue and distribution challenges of print media.

How has this impacted a key deliverable for the PR business. The all-important media coverage.

Deepayan Roy, media outreach specialist says, " In the beginning it was difficult to achieve our targeted numbers and quality media exposures for the respective clients but slowly we picked up pace and we are doing great now. We are able to make our respective clients understand the importance of online media exposure and their turnaround time. Current strategy is finding the right fit for various digital platforms and webinars, online media and new age media."

Nikky Gupta, co-founder and director, Teamwork Communications, an healthcare specialist firm shares that,  "Clients have become more demanding when it comes to opportunities on the online medium. Newspaper sales dipped during the pandemic as people avoided purchasing newspapers and turned to online news sources. While earlier digital media was just one section of our focus, today clients are demanding dedicated strategies for digital coverage."

Xavier PRabhu, founder and MD, PRHUB; president – APAC and member of the global board, IPREX says, "More than the quantitative aspect of the number for the deliverables what is of growing or equal concern is the qualitative aspect. Even in the shrunk space, the appetite for different stories is less which complicates the problem further. Making it worse is the elongated and even more uncertain timeframes due to fewer journalists in most media outlets shouldering more responsibilities. It's hopefully and mostly a passing phase. And a logical one that the PR industry needs to understand and cope with."

Solutions to reduced media coverage: Going digital 

The big shift, is of course, towards online news properties and social media. Teamwork Communications' Nikky Gupta looks to a campaign approach to overcome the coverage shortfall.

Siddharth Khanna, co-founder and CEO, Brand Visage Communications, shares his experience saying "In these unprecedented times of COVID-19, the entire focus shifted on essentials, healthcare, and sustenance. Luxury, lifestyle, travel and hospitality, apparel brands, and others among many faced the challenge of consumer attention. But we adapted it with articles with responsible content from the brands."

Khanna adds, "We, along with our clients, planned our calendar around content that was relevant for the audience, mostly with interesting video content  and  social media campaigns. We also follow the social media trends for higher audience reach. We even successfully executed a few Influencer campaigns with brands for better engagement."

PRabhu agrees that, "Making up the coverage shortfall with online and digital visibility is an option and we continue to explore. However, this has its limitations and cannot fully replace or deliver the impact that traditional, online & digital would have delivered when combined. While owned media has been offered as a solution, the COVID-impacted budgets do impose constraints on that as well."

Adapting the PESO model for media deliverables 

The pandemic has prompted clients to look at an integrated media mix. Owned media properties are being explored.

However, Deepayan Roy believes the shift to the PESO is slow to come. He explains, "Not many clients are keen on paid media. Though they are keen to know about the various rates and packages but at the end they end us questioning why to take up PR services if they can get paid media. The credibility aspect is also missing since clients are well aware of the difference between paid and earned media."

Roy adds, "Also, due to COVID every business has got affected, so investing money as of now is difficult but it has changed for the past 2 to 3 months. At least, clients are keen to know more about the various deliverables."

Impact on Journalists

The pandemic has also impacted journalists greatly. Says well known tech journalist and influencer,  Nikhil Chawla, "Truth be told, it is a tough time to be a journalist today. Especially if you are an independent journalist not backed by a big daddy media house. We the media are subjected to a systematic abuse by the powerful. Brands are flexing their muscles to get positive reviews out of you and if you don’t agree to them then you are backlisted."

Pointing to a recent trend of independent journalists taking to online properties, Chawla says, "Those who had a good social media presence are the ones who dared to go solo and started their entrepreneurial journey. I wont name any journalists here, but you can easily find the ones who have launched their own YouTube channels, blogs and even podcasts in the last few months. To sum it up, good social media presence turned out to be a skill set that came in handy at the most adverse times."

Commenting on the perennial PR-journo face-off, Chawla shares what he looks for in a good pitch, "Honestly, I received hundreds of press releases a day and most of them end up in the trash. It is not about offering me an exclusive interview, a catchy subject line, or a leak story for that matter. It is about a well-researched pitch note that has relevance, some call to action, a value proposition, a bit of personalisation.

I know it is a hard ask but I would definitely pay attention to a pitch that has reference to my old post about the brand, or category. A simple line on how the article was and how we can add value to the post by developing the story further. This indicates – research, relevance, call to action, a value add, and of course a bit of personalisation."

Chawla ends his comments  on how to follow up with journalists with a request to PR professionals, "Please do not follow up right after you hit the send button. If there are any chances of me reading your pitch, it goes null and void if I get haunting calls as soon as your mail hits my inbox."

PRabhu concludes with his own advise for PR professionals, "The real solution is to engage clients, be transparent, be creative, develop even more robust alternate plans, and be more positive. The real issue to look out for is fatigue among professionals on the ground who are pitching to media day in and day out who face more challenges than they have faced before. Its time they are helped and engaged to understand the current situation better. Also, teach them ways to work around and most importantly patience."