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How PR can take advantage of our changing media, by Waggener Edstrom’s Nick Lawrence

7th May 2013

Over the past 12 months there has been some seismic activity rumbling in our media mantle. Following hard on the heels of several bedrock print titles, Mr and and Mrs Telegraph (Sunday and Daily) last month announced their intention to consummate their digital marriage. Even more interesting was this piece on how the digital evolution of the Health Service Journal did wonders for distribution.

But there is an irony to all this binary activity adroitly highlighted by the Guardian’s Roy Greenslade as he laments another 24 journalism jobs disappearing, this time at regional publisher Archant. While media proprietors are crying "there is gold in them there servers" they are also significantly reducing the number of journalists. And the trend isn't just in print. At the BBC by the end of 2016 there will be around 2,000 fewer jobs at Aunty (many of them journalists) than there were in 2011.

In geological terms this shifting media landscape isn't so much continental drift – it's more like an earthquake.

What does this mean for our business? In a word: opportunity.

Marketers and PROs have a “once in a lifetime”chance for a significant land grab. But to do so will require a commensurate culture change.

There are three key areas where agencies and their clients can benefit:

1) Digital editions need content – news outlets no longer have the fire power to fill the virtual inches with story after story. If we are smart we will be able to supply some great "unbranded content" liberally splashed with our spokespeople.

2) We do the journalism too. We mine the data. We produce the stories. Research departments are brimming with some great stories just waiting to be told.

3) Fewer journalists will ultimately mean the industry will become more transient and more reliant on freelance effort. Yes individual relationships will be important … But not in the same way. Long gone are the days when schmoozing a key journalist contact over months and years will pay dividends. And freelancers are in exactly the same position as PR peeps. They have to sell stories in too.

But there is probably going to be another more meteoric-like impact.

For many years PR (with the a few notable exceptions) eschewed journalists manoeuvring themselves to the dark side. But now, as the term content marketing is flicked around like hot ash, we are starting to see a bigger trend towards journalists rocking up in big PR houses.

Our lines are becoming very, very blurred.

Yes, there will be cultural clashes (the moment you try and “circle back” on your average journalist you are liable to get punched), but harnessing the skill sets associated with good journalism will significantly increase competitive advantage.

Tight, story-driven, content marketing strategies are very much in vogue. So why not employ some journalists? Sure they often don’t speak very nicely to people, eat babies for kicks, and smell vaguely of stale smoke, but they are pretty good storytellers who have a good handle on how to talk to audiences.

The digital volcano means so much more than the printed word disappearing forever. An entirely new culture will emerge.

Let’s hope it doesn’t end up like Pompeii.

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