Arment Dietrich

Social Media and PR: Are Journalists Quicker to Adapt?

By: Arment Dietrich | August 8, 2010 | 

Guest post by Sharon Cain, managing director of Quest PR.

Compared to PR pros, are journalists quicker to adapt and embrace the wealth of opportunities that our vibrant new world of social media presents?

The dramatic evolution that journalism and PR have undergone since I was haring around the UK living on caffeine, adrenaline, and deadlines as an on-screen Sky TV reporter has been reinforced in Jeff Bullas’ brilliant blog on The 10 New Rules of PR.

As the UK’s first 24-hour station, Sky was hungry for its counterparts’ success – and its agility, tenacity, and speed (it reminded me of a voracious beast gobbling up my stories and instantly demanding more!) saw print journalists taking their lead from a channel that competitors predicted (wrongly) would go belly up.

Hunting “with the pack” was fun and furious and there was a certain snobbery (not to mention ego!) among the national media regarding their importance as the decision makers and custodians of the nation’s breaking news and ongoing content.

On becoming the “poacher turned gamekeeper” and moving into PR, my livelihood almost entirely depended on reporters – because at the time they were the only platform (with the exception of newsletters and company reports) to publish or broadcast our clients’ stories.

Fast forward to a world in which the media is no longer the “first” on many fronts. The advent of social media channels has highlighted that members of the public can circulate breaking news within minutes to news outlets and via their social media channels.

Thanks to the latter, the media is no longer the primary route for PR pros to penetrate our own and our clients’ target audiences.

Elements of the beleaguered mainstream media are under threat with falling newspaper circulations frequently in the news and compounded by TheMediaIsDying Twitter site.

Despite all this, the good news is that the media does not appear to be burying its collective head in the sand. Many journalists are looking forward, embracing social media, and appear to be pragmatic about what the future holds.

This was reflected last week when Social Times highlighted the results of a recent survey comprising more than 770 journalists from 21 countries which revealed that:

  • 50 percent of those questioned predicted the eventual demise of offline publications
  • 25 percent forecast that both online and offline media will shrink significantly
  • More than 50 percent are skeptical as to the profitability of online media as viable business models.

However, when putting PR agencies under the spotlight, we read that 78 percent of the UK’s 100 powerful agencies are not using Twitter, and our industry watchdog is bemoaning the the fact that PR pros are failing to embrace search marketing.

Why are agencies failing to realize that potential clients who are “new media savvy” may no longer engage them on sizeable monthly retainers to battle with thousands of competing agencies and in-house teams for mainstream coverage when a social media campaign can be more effective?

I’m really interested to hear your thoughts on how fast PR pros are adapting and responding to social media in the United States?

Also, will there still be a place for lifestyle publications that people can still see, touch, feel (and sometimes smell!) – or will we all be downloading apps for our iPhones and packing kindles in our holiday hand luggage?

  • Hi Sharon! Great to see you here!!

    It is SHOCKING to me that 78 percent of PR firms aren’t using digital technologies. SHOCKING! Last night I read a blog post from Roy Wells about how firms who do not consider ALL tools are doing a huge disservice to their clients. I agree. It’s time to get on the bandwagon already.

    • Hi Gini
      Thanks for the opportunity to comment.
      Yes, many of us were gobsmacked – bearing in mind how much ‘noise’ and media comment Twitter has generated on a global scale.
      There have been some interesting questions about whether this research reflects that the whole of the UK PR industry is slow on the social media uptake – or whether traditional PR agencies see social media as the remit of digital agencies. Ultimately though, it’s surely the PR industry’s remit to tap into the most effective channels for clients to help them accelerate their business goals?

  • Alex

    In Australia, this kind of proactive approach to social media by PR pros to follow/contact is still in its infancy… but it’s getting better. As a PR Professional in Melbourne, I’ve only recently begun following all my client’s key journalists, competitors and related stakeholders and have already found opportunities I didn’t know existed before. All PR professionals need to embrace social media if they aren’t already. If you don’t know anyone – google it and find them! Email them, ask for their time, employ them for a day! I had a day with an social media expert two weeks ago and it’s changed the way I think about my job. Hop to it!

    • Great to hear you are making inroads Alex and intelligence gathering to good effect! We’re doing more training and consulting which reflects the hunger and appetite among SMEs to tap into the fabulous benefits that social media can bring.

  • It’s incredibly important PR firms get with digital. Or they’ll miss out on an important slice of the cake. Here in Sweden, despite being a key player in the development of apps and online services, PR firms are also somewhat behind. You can see from their websites and emphasis on trade magazines that they’ve not caught up with digital yet.

    One major trend is for journalists to start digital agencies to challenge the old order.

    Great post, Sharon!

    • Cheers Jon
      Interesting and disappointing to hear its not just the UK PR firms who are slow to change. What a storming call to action for journalists to start digital agencies and a great way to tap into the wealth of powerful writing and other transferable skills that they possess as a starter for ten!

  • These post is indeed true.:) Great input, I guess what really matters is that PR pros won’t stop trying to be “more” part of search marketing for its the trend.

    • Thanks for the positive feedback. I agree entirely and would like to see more encourement/support/input from our industry body to stress the importance of harnessing social media. The fears are that many traditional agencies may be in serious trouble if, as predicted, there’s another two years before we emerge from the recession.

  • Sharon,

    The advance of technology has forced us over the years to continually change our business models. I remember the “good old days” when client’s happily paid us to provide them with news clips. Today we tweet them for free as a way to build our audience.

    Today’s social networking platforms provide tools for our client’s that will replace traditional services offered by PR firms. Those PR firms that will survive will be the ones who add value in their relationships, and move away from those services which simply become commodities. Think of all the species that have become extinct as a result of evolution.

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