What is the Future of Traditional Media Relations?The media landscape is changing. That’s not a secret or some deep insight we’ve toiled to discover.

Fake news has rattled and chipped away at the trust and credibility of, well, everything we read online. And the media business model has been having trouble finding its footing for some time.

Add to that the proliferation of online publications and a possible redefining of what counts as “media.”

A prolific YouTuber, Twitcher (love that word), and/or Instagrammer can now fall within the media category.

As communications professionals who include media relations in their practice, the landscape is changing drastically.

Begging this week’s Spin Sucks Question:

What is the future of traditional media relations?

And yes, you read that correctly! These are, of course, big questions for all of us in this industry.

But all of our queries in the Spin Sucks community have heft! They’re all big!

Add to that the fact that we’ve been branding it the #SpinSucksQuestion on social all this time, so… decision made. The Spin Sucks Question it shall be. That was easy.

The Big Question is dead. Long live the Spin Sucks Question. Let’s get to it.

The Future of Media Relations: It’s an Evolution

For some, this seems to be a deeper and more philosophical question than it is to others. For Kat Eller Murray, it’s actually quite simple:

The future of media relations is going to evolve just as the definition of “traditional media” itself evolves.

Television didn’t become a traditional medium for distributing news, entertainment, and other information until the 1950s.

Before that there was radio.

There will always be new forms of media and new people to leverage those forms of media to share content.

As a result, there will always be new ways of engaging and creating relationships and we as PR professionals just need to be aware and on top of those approaches.

Similarly, Kristine Maloney speaks to how the media landscape is evolving. Change is inevitable.

The challenge, though, comes back to trust and credibility, and the onus is on us:

I think one of the biggest challenges to traditional media relations in this rapidly evolving media landscape is not the shrinking of the largest, most influential outlets, but rather convincing clients that newer outlets like podcasts, blogs, and edgier websites are worth their time.

There was a time when coverage in a major U.S. daily like The New York Times would reach just about everyone, but people are consuming news from so many different places today.

In the past, smaller outlets reached a smaller set of subscribers.

But today, many of those same types of scrappier outlets are not only putting out exceptional journalism but also utilizing social media to broaden their audience more effectively.

Media relations practitioners are adapting to this and can see value in less traditional hits, but it’s up to us to demonstrate the benefits of embracing emerging media outlets to our clients. And that will take time.

Media Relations: On the Way Out?

Interestingly, most respondents focused on redefining media, or on the fact that it—and, by extension, media relations—is evolving.

But there were a precious few who went the other way…

Greg Brooks:

We only ever needed the media for two things: amplification and third-party validation.

Now, we can potentially (and certainly more consistently) amplify ourselves and, done correctly, build greater trust along the way.

Media relations has been a declining percentage of my work for the better part of 15 years, and I fully expect that trendline to continue.

Deirdre Lopian is on a like-minded page:

Newsrooms are scaled down, press releases are now videos, blogs, and infographics created and distributed by the brands themselves a la brand journalism.

If brands hire the right in-house comms team, their need for traditional media relations is very low.

Media Relations Redefined

Just because media itself and how we define it is changing doesn’t mean media relations, as a practice, changes. The same principals apply, no?

From Mike Schaffer:

What’s the difference between pitching a radio show and pitching a YouTube show? “Traditional” media relations is not gone, it’s evolved as our definition of media has expanded.

From Christopher Penn:

In the most recent PRStudChat, it was pointed out that new media influencers and outlets have significantly different standards of conduct than traditional media.

It may turn out, given equal reach, that a new media outlet is better for the brand than a traditional media one.

That said, to Mike Schaffer’s point above, the pitching process is the same.

Do your homework, reach out with something of value that’s relevant, timely, and targeted, and hope someone says yes.


While media and how we define it may change, Jennifer McGinley feels traditional media relations will remain unaffected:

Traditional media relations will stand the test of time because it is about building relationships, credibility and providing creative and relevant content for a media outlet.

The outlets may change, but the approach and end result will remain the same.

Chip Griffin agrees:

I would argue that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Public relations, as the name suggests, is all about relationships.

Doesn’t matter whether that is a relationship with an ink-stained scribe from an old-fashioned newspaper or an effervescent YouTuber.

I think we also need to be careful with over-investing in language like “brand journalism” and “we are the media” — while there is truth to these claims, there are clear differentiators between what individuals and brands do versus professional media outlets that continue to play an important role.


As communicators, we need to identify where the audiences are, but ultimately, it’s also about who they trust.

So, regardless of whether media relations—as a practice—changes or not, according to Mary O’Malley the goal remains the same: End users are looking for information they can trust.

What I detect, having worked with academics for many years, is a desire for trusted expertise.

Whether that comes through traditional media mainly, or a combination of trad media and social, I can only guess.

I detect an impatience with click bait headlines and stories in mainstream media so I see opportunities for authentic, niche media.

Instability and Opportunity

Sometimes knowing exactly how something is going to change is less important than recognizing the change itself.

From Bob Bonniol:

A great book that looks at this topic, is Ken Auletta’s Frenemies.

One thing is certain, the traditional models are being disrupted.

We are seeing evidence in real time that the big agency holding groups are fragmenting and struggling—Their size prevents an ability to nimbly react to the shifting market.

Many big brands are bringing a lot of marketing and communication scope *In House*. Companies like Google, Facebook, and now Amazon, are leveraging their innate metrics and walled data gardens to dominate digital marketing and communications…

Meanwhile, small agencies with focused niches are able to generate business like never before by leveraging expertise in digital and social.

It is a time of instability, but I like to think that corresponds to opportunity.

Next Time, On the Spin Sucks Question

We were lucky to host an #AMA in the Spin Sucks Community this week, featuring Jay Acunzo: author, podcast host, keynote speaker, and all-around nice guy.

The theme? Best practices and why we shouldn’t necessarily follow them blindly.

It’s not that they suck, per se.

Rather, “they have their place. But they’re incomplete. They lack context,” Jay insists. “They’re OK starting points at best, outmoded ideas masquerading as blueprints at worst.”

So, the next Spin Sucks Question asks:

Best practices: How do they fit into your business and practices?

What are some examples of best practices that you’ve upheld? What about others you’ve had to dismiss and rebuild on based on your goals?

You can answer here, in our free Spin Sucks Community, or on the socials (use #SpinSucksQuestion so we can find you).

Mike Connell

Mike Connell is the director of client services at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. He is also a contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks, the leading source for modern PR training, trends, and insights. Find more of Mike's musings on his blog, Communative. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

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