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Is there a role for media relations in the age of social?

Traditional news media, like many other businesses, has been disrupted by the relentless impact of digitalisation. Newsrooms have needed to reinvent themselves to stay relevant. Journalists are now expected to check real-time rumours or tip-offs which appear on social media, and file stories, if true.

Today, advertisers have more options to spread their budget, cutting out huge chunks from what used to go to print and broadcast media. Not surprisingly, turnover in the industry is high with veteran journalists taking on in-house roles, and leaving younger and eager, but less experienced colleagues to fill their shoes. Consumers now have a plethora of options to get their news (sometimes fake) while newsmakers are increasingly breaking news directly to their audiences. With the diminished power of news media, it is fair to ask whether there is still a need for media relations. The short answer is yes.

While a video can go viral and news can spread like wildfire over WhatsApp, many people still turn to the major news organisations for validation of something a friend has passed along. The now famous anonymous op-ed by a White House insider published by The New York Times was deemed credible only because the newspaper saw fit to print it. It would have received a different response if a politician had shared the piece on their Facebook page. While media organisations remain important players in the news eco-system, how communications professionals work with them has had to change. Gone are the days when we had the luxury of hours to reply to journalists on a major news  item as the newspaper’s off stone was hours away.

Today, companies have to respond quickly, and accurately, or risk being shut out of a developing news story. Organisations can no longer simply rely on the press release to get their story out. With a competitive news media landscape, editors want stories that are exclusive or at least different from what other titles have. This, thus, calls for clever pitching of story angles to different media titles. One size certainly does not fit all in the current news environment. It used to be that news media would have their reporters assigned to specific beats so they could invest their time to understand the industry.

Sadly, this has become rarer. Hence, media relations teams need to explore how they can work with journalists to fill this gap. Here are three suggestions for effective media relations:

  1. Ensure that information is readily available on your owned digital channels: Organisations should use a variety of digital channels to communicate information about day-to-day activities, promotions and events to make it easy for journalists and the public to find or verify. And, of course, the information must always be current.
  2. Package news for different platforms: Online news is published by all news media, not just those which are exclusively digital. Print and broadcast media are also on the lookout for fresh and engaging content to offer their readers online. However, a news piece that works well online may not be as reader-friendly in print. Online articles are best supported by video while print stories benefit from captivating photography.
  3. Prepare for the unexpected: In a crisis, everyone will turn to social media channels for the latest updates, and look to news channels for confirmation, context and insights – all at lightning speed. Do you have plans ready when there is an issue to address? Do you give background briefings during the good times so the news media know what your priorities are in a time of crisis?

While media relations teams must change with the times, some principles remain important, such as providing timely, accurate and relevant communications. We must continue to have strong writing skills, and a nose for what makes a good news story – that astute sense of what will interest editors and journalists. And finally, digital bits and bytes cannot replace the evergreen value of maintaining close ties with editors and reporters. It is indeed a symbiotic relationship. How has your organisation adapted to these changing times?

The writer is Ivan Tan is group senior vice president, corporate & marketing communications at Changi Airport Group. The article first appeared in Marketing’s The Futurist print edition.