Sharon Zeev Poole (main photo), is the founder and director of boutique PR and communications agency Agent99. In this guest post, Zeev Poole takes a look at what all the closures in the media business will mean for Australia’s public relations industry…
The media and communications industry suffered another massive blow this week when Bauer Media announced the closure of eight beloved titles, including Harper’s Bazaar, Instyle, Men’s Health and Ok! Magazine. To say I am absolutely devastated, is an understatement. Having worked with Australian media outlets for over 15 years, my heart goes out to all the journalists, editors, stylists, photographers and all others affected by this decision; as these magazines were such a unique part of mine (and my team’s) upbringing, and love for the industry.
Every month the impact of COVID-19 continues to be felt full-force across our nation and our shrinking media landscape is evidence of just how deep the financial strain runs. While many industries have taken a massive hit due to the pandemic, the continual axing of seemingly thriving media channels has me, as a PR agency director, a little more than concerned.
With the latest report from PR Newswire outlining that over a third (37 per cent) of APAC businesses are seeking to increase their earned media budget in the next financial year, the gears in my head are already starting to turn as to how the media landscape will accommodate this hunger. If I (and I’m sure many others) are really honest with ourselves, with a comparatively solid start to containing the pandemic, we possibly got a bit ahead of ourselves and thought that Australia would conquer this beast quickly and resume our old habits within a month or two. However, as cases surge once again, I am finally forced to sit at my (home) office and dwell upon that terrifying question…what is next for PR if the media market continues to shrink?
Please don’t misinterpret me, this is not a ‘what about me’ story. I think it’s an unnerving question that many agencies are scared to ask themselves. And ironically, more than ever, organisations are seeing the immeasurable value of organic, earned media pieces. So, with less platforms to amplify brand messages, where do we go from here?
GO BACK TO BASICS, BUT ALSO DO NOT WASTE ANY TIME TO EVOLVE
One of my team members decided to use her COVID-19 isolation time to undertake a personal goal: completing her masters degree in communication. While I was very excited for her to take on this challenge, I was more impressed to hear her reasoning behind it. She chose to do a masters as it was a deep-dive into communications theory, something she was very passionate about. She wanted to go back to basics as to why PR was developed and the purpose it serves in our community today.
I think many communications professionals (myself included) often lose sight of why we entered the industry to begin with…we love communicating with people and making a difference with a simple message.
But if anything can be taken from our experience now, it’s that each day brings a new and unique challenge, with earned media becoming increasingly more difficult to attain across the board. So, going back to basics of exemplary storytelling and boundless creativity will be the only way good agencies will survive.
Agencies will also need to evolve from their ‘bread and butter’ earned media capabilities, and instead become highly agile, diversifying their offerings like never before.
It’s time to go from being a ‘one-hit-wonder’ to a ‘one-stop-shop’ agency – irrespective of size.
If agencies and PR professionals want to onboard new clients and prove value ‘in lieu of media awareness’ per se, they will need an integrated approach that uses all the best aspects of PR, digital marketing and social, to drive visibility, engagement and meaningful results for their clients.
JOURNALISM AND PR INTEGRATION WILL BE KEY
While my team prides itself on strong media relations capabilities, the reality is that we are in the middle of a pandemic and journalists are rightfully prioritising breaking news stories, making our ability to achieve media cut through that much harder.
As outlets like the Bauer titles cease operations, the publications that remain will be limited to writing hard-hitting news stories or very niche content, whilst lifestyle stories will be reduced to shorter columns and features.
PRs cannot expect the same things from journalists as they did before, and vice versa. Journalists are becoming even more time poor than they’ve ever been and PRs are becoming desperate to secure placements for brands. It’s a lose-lose situation, but it doesn’t have to be.
Where the two roles can really find harmony is in genuine, relevant content that is specifically targeted and has a place within the wider network of the community.
While Agent99 would have loved to launch the new book of one of its real estate authors in March, COVID-19 had other plans. Instead of hitting pause, we saw a unique opportunity to pivot our strategy and give journalists a credible expert to discuss the changes and developments in the real estate industry due to the effects of the pandemic.
This resulted in far greater success long-term for our client than the book launch ever could have. While our relationships with journalists might look different from here on out, they are still there and ready to be nurtured.
REFRAME THE KPIs
Setting KPIs from the outset are a brilliant way for agencies to provide a scope for what can be achieved through a marketing campaign. However, in light of the media landscape changing drastically, agencies will need to ensure client/brand expectations are reframed, and that KPIs are set in line with a broader suite of tactics that ultimately achieve the set objectives.
One of Agent99’s long-term clients has been successfully putting a product release into market every quarter for the past 2 years, with resounding results each time. Now however, that same approach is met with far greater difficulty, with journalists advising they are not writing lifestyle content or require a budget.
Whilst we evolve our strategy to ensure we continue to deliver on our KPIs, despite it being a sticky subject, client education is key alongside this. Agencies will need to reassure clients that results and value can still be very much achievable; this may not look the same in all its guises.
As I sit down with my team and discuss the challenges ahead, I am excited to push our boundaries and think about the bigger picture for our agency and the communications industry as a whole. Yes, some days can be terrifying, but PR isn’t going anywhere; it will just be the new age that’s been evolving for quite some time – but just on steroids.
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