In 2013, the media industry went through a deep transformation. According to recent studies, it was one of the most dynamic years in terms of mergers and acquisitions: more than half of the respondents addressed by AD Media, a global advertising agency, were approached by a strategic buyer in 2013; one in three respondents were approached by a financial investor. A third of the respondents also received purchase offers and one in five was finally acquired by a new business entity.
We don’t need to go very far to check out this reality: just remember the moves that shook the Czech media market last year, starting with the purchase of the Mafra publishing house by Andrej Babiš in June 2013 and ending with the sale of Ringier Axel Springer CZ, publisher of the most widely read Czech daily (Blesk) to local businessmen Daniel Křetínský and Patrik Tkáč in December 2013. This obvious market concentration triggered numerous debates; I won’t dwell further into what’s right and wrong with these transactions. What I would like to do is to offer some thoughts on how those of you interested in using media relations for strategic communication can and should use these market dynamics to boost your visibility and provide a new dimension for your public image.
- Understand what’s going on.
Like it or not, commercial media are just that: commercial entities, meant to bring profit to their owners and – if possible – satisfaction to their employees. Yes, media have a social role; yes, media transform the way we perceive reality; yes, we should be aware of all that and hold them responsible when they go too far. But what is “too far” in the quest for profitable figures at the end of the year? The same question applies to other sectors: banking, energy, real estate or retail. Admitting that media is important, because it deals with our emotions, level of information and perception of the world, we must also admit that in a capitalist market we’ve got commercial media that (should) thrive on advertising. The fact that new investors swarm around media outlets means they believe these cash cows have still some future. For media relations specialists that means two things. First, expect even more pressure on your advertising budget if you want to get into the newspapers without a powerful story. Second, if you don’t have an ad budget, you better have – or develop – brilliant media relations (a heart-touching story, engaged experts and leadership, courageous opinions and above all, timely and relevant news content).
- Media is not everything anymore
People in your marketing and PR department may already realize this: sheer media relations are not sufficient anymore to get your message across. In fact, not since 2007 and the economic crisis and debacle that attended it, have we hung on to traditional ways of doing things. Why? Simply because new technologies (social media, mobile apps etc.) empowered the people you care about (your customers, employees or business partners) to get together on other virtual platforms, share opinions, gather information and make decisions on whether to buy from you or not. You need to be out there where your public is. You need to keep an eye on all these platforms at the same time and be ready to flexibly mold your communication processes in the direction that interests your audiences.
Traditional media isn’t the main source of information anymore. Does that mean you should ignore it? No. It is still powerful, still relevant and, particularly in case of crisis communication, can still trash your brand and force you out of business. It only means that you should think more about strategic cross-platform communication than media relations per se. The lines between marketing, PR, content management, SEO, event management, graphic design and other specialties have become more and more blurred. How can you handle this challenge? By going back to the roots: clarify (again) who you are and what you bring to the world, closely follow the moves of your audiences, develop a mutual conversation with your publics and cultivate engaged representatives and flexible processes that allow you to communicate what you need, when you need it and only to those who listen.
- Bet on trustworthiness and personal relationships
Back to the news makers, it has never been more important to return to the basics of media relations: know thy reporter. With so many news reps moving from one job to another or launching titles, blogs and projects of their own, you simply must know who the opinion-makers in your industry are. The media market is fragmenting and this will continue in 2014 as well. It may be tiring to follow the constant moves of those who cover your industry.
However, the best thing you can do this summer is to get a handful of journos out for a beer, coffee or breakfast and let them talk. Listen to their needs, understand how they work, share your experience and view of the world, cultivate the relationship and become a trustworthy source. In this chaotic media world, trust in individuals is all we’ve got. Trust has always been the fundamental pillar of strategic media relations. Fortunately, the economic crisis and wave of M&As hasn’t changed that. We remain human beings and need to trust and rely on each other in order to move forward.