To stay informed, connected and advised many of us do what feels natural – we turn to the news. We turn to channels that provide us with insight, facts, discussion, experts, updates, debates – and in times of discomfort and fear, reassurance. Take today’s unprecedented global coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic: communities around the world are glued to screens arguably more than ever. The surge of digital platforms and trends across newsrooms is changing the way agencies and corporations do business. Information is flowing faster and farther – an undeniable reality in the ever-evolving world of communications. So it’s never been more important to understand how newsrooms are evolving, and how you can build and maintain relationships with the media members who are informing our communities.
The only constant is change. An undeniable reality in the ever-evolving world of communications. The digital revolution is sweeping through newsrooms and agencies faster than expected, forcing practitioners across different verticals to adapt to new ways of communicating—among peers, audiences, consumers, and clients alike.
We live in a rapid news, rapid response society. Like it or not, digital media has completely reshaped the way we formulate, digest, and exchange information. Case in point, consider how you’re reading this blog right now, likely on some form of a portable device. Technology and social platforms have opened the flood gates, allowing for the rapid flow of non-stop information. The days of waiting and wondering are over; if you want to know something simply click a finger and voila!
As demands change, messages are diversifying and so are jobs. Journalists are doing more with less—less time and fewer resources. Newscasts are streaming online, headlines are hitting IGTV, news is breaking on Facebook Live and updates posted by the minute on Twitter—yes, it’s happening all before showtime. So, on a broader scale, what does this mean? As circulation diversifies, so are audiences.
From newscasts to podcasts, radio shows to YouTube streams, stills to Snapchats—conversations are constantly churning, which means new audiences are tapping in. The big question here, from an agency perspective, is how are these changes influencing the way agencies are communicating with clients?
Consider this: In 2018, for the first time since Pew Research Center started asking questions about media consumption trends, researchers found that one-in-five U.S. adults turn to social media for news, which is a slightly higher percentage than those who turn to traditional newspapers for their daily reports.
If you don’t believe us, take it from Madison Carter, reporter/anchor for WKBW in Buffalo, N.Y., who says, “Every newsroom across America is now ‘digital first.’ We are thinking about how to engage with our audience minute-by-minute and adjusting to instantaneous feedback. In effect, our jobs are now 24/7. As journalists, our goal is to accommodate a constant stream of information, rather than the traditional daily round-up. Today, headlines are no longer focused on ‘what you need to know.’ It’s more like ‘here is everything we know, digest it how you will.’”
So, how does the digital shift of information affect those of us who rely on news coverage to do our jobs? Well, it means a couple of things; namely, it calls on those in the agency world to pay keen attention to digital trends and start participating. Our job is to monitor the flow of information and to best advise our clients on how to maximize public consumption.
To stay relevant in today’s climate, whether you’re the one pitching the story or the one publishing it, you have to participate. Don’t settle at the surface. I constantly remind my peers that as communicators, we’re also consumers. If you want to know how to best serve your client, don’t assume you know what media works best; actively dive in and start experimenting first-hand with what’s flooding the marketplace. Now if you’re thinking, “that’s a lot of usernames and passwords to remember,” consider a different approach.
Start by being more mindful of your immediate surroundings. Cultivate a curiosity about how people are communicating around you—at work, home, or wherever you spend most of your time. Reflect and respond by creating a presence on those specific platforms first. Don’t get in the habit of posting just to post, as tempting as it may be; create purpose behind your presence and your posts—it makes a difference. One tip is to ask yourself these questions: “Who is my audience?” “How do they get their news?” “How can I reach the people most affected as efficiently as possible?” In general, a game plan is always the key to success.
I’m often asked how my job has changed since I traded a newsroom for an agency. Truth be told, what I enjoy most is the fact that while there are indeed stark differences, there are also similarities. The key thing to remember is that both journalists and publicists rely on one another to get the job done and to do that we require many of the same things – information and consumers.
As a journalist, your job is to keep one ear to the ground and the other ear to the wind, absorbing what’s happening around you and communicating information as effectively as possible to as many people as possible in real-time. Though it might sound easy, adapting one message multiple times requires an immense amount of awareness, flexibility, and multitasking. You have limited hours — and I mean limited — to take one story and produce as many versions of it as possible.
As a reporter/anchor, I spent the majority of my time building a robust voice on platforms that my employers relied on to maximize their message. Before I left the studio, I was tweeting, at the scene, I was tweeting, in the car, I was tweeting, and even after my shift, I was tweeting. I had access to the station’s social pages as well as my own professional social pages, both of which I used to share information, breaking news, and as platforms to connect with viewers as much as possible. Sure, Instagram, Snapchat, and other popular social platforms were peaking, but I saw the value in connecting and communicating on platforms where my team had an established presence with guaranteed viewers.
As a public relations practitioner, my digital priorities and presence have naturally evolved to suit the needs of our clients. I don’t monitor Facebook as much as I do Instagram these days, which I attribute to the role influencers play in our business. I rely on LinkedIn to share industry trends and Reddit to monitor industry conversation. Blogs and newsletters are instrumental teaching tools. I use IGTV and other video platforms as marketing tools to promote events as authentically as possible, in real-time. Twitter is still a reliable source when it comes to keeping a tab on society’s pulse and industry chatter. Though when it comes to Twitter, I’ll admit that I find myself reading more tweets behind the scenes than posting them on the front lines, which I enjoy.
My goal with this blog is not only to offer perspective and insight into both worlds — newsrooms and integrated communications agencies such as ours – but to also create a bridge that forges us together. In truth, there is a sacred relationship between journalists and publicists, and when we acknowledge that optimal results are achieved.
No matter what arena you find yourself in, the key to staying successful is staying informed, honest and engaged with colleagues, clients, and competitors. Here are a few tips to help you jumpstart the process. These tips are intended to help you stay ahead of the curve. Consider investing time in even just one of these tips, then reflect on how your work has evolved and where your business stands—I guarantee you and your team will see impactful change, one tip at a time.
How to stay ahead in a “digital-first” climate:
1. It’s not just about what you know, it’s about who you know
Invest time in nurturing real relationships with the media— and no, I don’t just mean firing off an email. Make a phone call, schedule a lunch, create an invitation, look for opportunities to create some one-on-one time with reporters, producers, directors, digital executives. Remember, coverage doesn’t land itself; you need journalists just as much as they need you.
2. Broaden your ways—expand to new media
Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, podcasts, TikTok, YouTube, hashtags … the list goes on. News is hitting each of these platforms, and then some. Your job isn’t to make a profile for every platform that ever existed; your job is to find those platforms that suit your client’s needs and that reach your client’s audience and make an impact. Get knowledgeable and get creative. Make this a team effort!
3. Understand what’s going on in your community, not just with your clients
I’m not asking you to trade in your career for a new one. I’m asking you to remember that an informed publicist is often the most impactful one. Know what “hot topics” are hitting headlines—locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. Know the last time your client was in the news and how things have evolved since then. Educate yourself about what the community is dealing with so you can better shape timely and worthwhile pitches to media.
4. Understand media trends—stay relevant
There are a plethora of sources out there to learn from. Newsletters, blogs, online courses, sit-down courses—if you identify where your weaknesses are you can bridge the gap. Subscribe, sign up, dial in, ask your superiors if you can attend a workshop, do your part in sharpening your skills. Media trends are constantly changing, there’s no way around it. The best way to advise clients on these trends is to have a keen understanding of them yourself. Don’t waste dollars doing something that isn’t going to pay off in the end.
These are just a few tips that, if employed, can certainly make a difference. At The Martin Group, we understand how valuable relationships are and yet how difficult they can be to cultivate. For these reasons, we have put together two separate resources we hope you and your team can use to catapult your business. Our Twitter List and Media Relations List are introductory tools to help establish and maximize relations with media as you work toward achieving your bottom line. Good luck, and remember, our team is always here to help!