Does media relations still matter in a digital age?

Last December, PR Week questioned whether ‘Media Relations is dead’, claiming that the move towards digital news was leading to fewer ‘quality’ publications and less traditional journalists, affording fewer opportunities for media relations. As it was meant to do, it rattled a few cages.

Media relations is not even close to dead, it’s just different. And that is spectacular because there are so many opportunities.

As with everything, media relations is evolving. There’s a massive change in publications and how they work. Yet, PR is an essential function in a growth strategy, not least to support online awareness, so more collaboration is needed than ever before. 

Digital pace is faster

The digital age has seen communication speed up beyond all recognition and choosing a PR company that understands the digital landscape is critical.

We’re focusing hugely on expertise and content, making sure words are utterly relevant to our media’s audience. As before, we’re influencing, publishing articles, disseminating news. Now, too, we’re formulating infographics, creating backlinks, networking in a different way, over many channels, finding new ways to gain attention and create interest. 

These days, a PR agency won’t just write to an editor and await their reply. Thanks to an explosion in modern communications channels, editors receive messages on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, calls and text messages, emails and SKYPE calls – and everyone expects an answer almost instantly. 

Digital editors struggle with the pace

The pressures on both new media publishers and the PRs who work with them are high. My view is to help the editors and journalists I work with, if you’re saving them time with good content, that can only be a good thing.

An editor friend of mine says often she hasn’t had chance to read the first email before getting a chase-up from a PR, as bosses and clients pile on pressure to get coverage fast.

Meanwhile, the media landscape itself has changed. It’s splintered greatly. Some publications are folding, while others flourish, with known, unknown and start-up publications and specialist bloggers launching almost instantly online. Whereas traditional media can take years to establish, in 6 months a publisher can go from being unknown to being on page one of Google – and therefore very influential.  Unfortunately, fake news sites can launch just as fast. Trust is important to garner and PR helps with this hugely.

Media relations supports SEO

Media relations now involves managing both offline and online relationships - and there is a huge cross over with SEO, ie managing a website’s relationship with Google.

With 89% of people now researching online before making a purchase, getting good search engine placements is vital, and to score well on Google, that means securing do-follow backlinks from trusted sites – PR is perfectly placed to help with this by sharing desirable, relevant, timely content.

As Aleh Barysevich, founder and chief marketing officer at says in his Search Engine Journal article, “There are many different ways to approach link building, but what they all boil down to is content marketing. Step one: Create high-quality content. Step two: Promote.”

Sharing the right content in exchange for a do-follow backlink (and a ‘do-follow’ link is important) can create powerful ‘link-juice’ for your client’s SEO.

Digital relationships are still media relationships 

Traditional media publishers usually run a digital version of their media alongside the printed version anyway, so existing media relationships remain important both on and offline.

New automated subscription-based tools not only provide PRs with every journalist known to man, but also automate email databases. So although PRs can access many journalists, it’s far wiser to access only the most relevant and build trusted relationships. Editors receive hundreds of emails every day, so making sure yours truly matter to their audience is part and parcel of media relations.

Subscription tools also provide an inbox of journalist enquiries – often unique that they may not have the right contacts for. It means we’re privy to knowing exactly what journalists need every day. Social media has its hacks too, not least, with #journorequest on Twitter. Everyone can tap into that.

An editor friend admits that on a busy news week, she barely glances at automated emails, yet feels guilty if she has to turn down a piece from a ‘friend’ - who she possibly hasn’t even met in the real world. 

There are positives with digital publishing, too. There aren’t print deadlines to meet, so if your client asks at the last minute for you to publicise something quickly (it happens occasionally and like most PR agencies, we do our best), a friendly online editor MAY be prepared to help you out with coverage at short notice – at least if you know them, you can ask.

The dark side of new media

We do, however, need to talk about the dark side. 

When it comes to digital, the speed with which bad news spreads across both websites and social media means that reputation management is more intense than ever – and having a strategy to deal with negative press is vital.

Awareness of the power of social media has seen many retail channels moving from ‘sell sell sell’ on social media towards a reputation-building approach. Most organisations now share company news and use social media opportunities to build trust and increase transparent communications with customers. Customer service teams now man many social media channels, responding quickly and visibly to public complaints.  

The increase of available channels for employees (think Glassdoor and many others) means more opportunities for reputation damage. The awareness that ‘anybody can tweet’ is leading to better practices, with social and traditional media training for clients and their teams.  This is a great thing for driving better communications across the board.

Overall, the digital landscape provides fantastic opportunities for PR agencies that have a map and a strategy to navigate them. On and offline, it starts with media relations.

Perhaps it’s like a black cab and Uber in London. At the end of the day, both can get you from Point A to Point B. There is no denying that change is happening, that customer needs are different, the routes can change all the time and you need the right driver to get you to your destination. Either way, somebody needs to drive the cab with care and skill.

Kay Phelps