Public relations in a changing media environment

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably aware that major changes are afoot in the way the media works.

It’s been the subject of deep investigative articles, some moral panic, and even the focus of an excellent season of HBO’s program The Wire. The basic story: newspapers are dead. Or dying. Or reinventing their business model. It really depends on who you talk to, but what is for certain is that there are fewer and fewer journalists (God bless them) covering more and more beats.

Although I am more convinced by the argument that shareholders’ demands for growth and dividends are the main culprit for the fall of Big News, it is no coincidence that this trend occurred alongside the fastest growth in communications technology. The blogger was born, the gatekeeper hoodwinked, the web got social, and all of a sudden everything from credibility, authority, and influence were tossed in the air like bacchanalian confetti ringing in the brave new world.

So where does that leave public relations – known to so many of us by its distrusted acronym ‘PR’?

Public relations was traditionally practiced by no-nonsense former newsmen and newswomen, who after decades grinding away on the business beat stepped out into the private sector, offering clients their know-how and relationships to get them published in the paper. I’ve worked for some of these grand figures in the years leading up to the realignment of the regime, and I must confess an embarrassing level of respect and adulation for their craft.

But things work differently now. Big ideas start in new places, communities influence each other in new ways, and while the Old Gray Lady is of course still doing her beautiful thing, she is just one among many at the dance. New tools and new approaches are needed, while the pitfalls of this vast new exposure are numerous.

The question becomes about your message and your audience: Where is your audience? What kinds of messages are going to compete for their attention? How can your PR strategy strengthen your reputation and produce the desired outcomes? The answers to these questions, as well as the execution of your outreach, are the new hallmarks of public relations, and will increasingly have to adapt to the immense changes in the way media is organized and consumed.

We’re ready to make the leap into the next era. Are you?