Can PR firms survive without traditional media?

In the last year news about traditional media has been all bad.  Circulations of newspapers and magazines are dropping like stones and TV networks are struggling to attract viewers. Much of this decline has been blamed on the emergence of the Internet as an alternative way for people to spend their time.  So with traditional media getting ever smaller, competition for space increases (given the number of companies who want to be on the cover of a magazine doesn’t decline), yet the value of that space also declines as it is seen by fewer people.  This all suggests that agencies who rely on traditional media are going to really struggle.  But in truth I don’t know an agency that does rely on traditional media anymore.  When you think about that it’s amazing that our industry has undergone such change in such a shot time.

Given this situation you may come to the conclusion that traditional media no longer matters and that any smart PR business will plan for it being a tiny fraction of its revenue in the coming years.  This is where I take issue.  I think traditional media is like many other businesses that for a long time had no apparent rival and then all of a sudden they wake up and realize that they are in danger of going out of business because of some rival that simply crept up on them.  But like most of those businesses they start to re-invent themselves AND a new natural equilibrium emerges.  I think we are still searching for that equilibrium right now but I’m convinced it will come.  Traditional media isn’t going to disappear it is going to evolve.  Plus there will become a point when a hard core audience will emerge that is much harder to erode.  I think we are still some way form that point but within the next few years I believe we’ll get there.

I predict we’ll get to a place where we have a smaller traditional media but one that is no longer traditional.  The essence of traditional is largely the way the media is delivered.  Newspapers are delivered daily, news shows air at certain times etc.  Thanks to DVRs and the Internet the delivery mechanism has been challenged and largely destroyed.  That leaves the other mainstay of the traditional media world: content.  Traditional media is guided by largely unwritten rules about the way its content is generated.  In the case of news there is an expectation that that news will be accurate.  We don’t always have the same expectations of news that appears on social media sites though.  Equally, traditional news has always been a one way dialog.  Now that’s changing, with many online news sites encouraging feedback and comment.  In other words traditional media is embracing social media tools to stem the tide of readers departing.  But you guys all know this.  So why am I writing this?  Well I guess I want to make the point that we are in a content and distribution war in which the best content with the best distribution will win.  In that world there is no reason why traditional media has to lose, it simply has to adapt AND accept that people have a lot more choice than they did ten years ago.  That means they’ll never have the circulations, viewerships or listeners they once did.  Instead they’ll have to take a share of people’s attention.  But as we all know, one ‘share’ can be a lot more valuable than another.

These are horrible days for traditional media and its likely that it will go through a LOT more pain and change before it hits bottom.  But I’m convinced it will hit bottom and when it does find its role, PR will find it still has a very important partner.  So don’t abandon traditional media just yet!

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2 Comments on “Can PR firms survive without traditional media?”

  1. Marc Hausman says:

    Agree completely! With its peer review process producing more objective and balanced reporting than blogs and other social media content, traditional media will continue to play an important role in any external PR/communications program.

    That being said, the shift in influence in the market from traditional sources of credibility to social networks will continue.

    The downturn in publishing is not solely economy driven. Marketers “fish where the fish are” and their targets are now more engaged in online communities.

  2. I think PR can survive without the traditional media. The paper hasn’t been that strong, especially for the younger generation. The lines of marketing and PR have blurred together in the past couple of years, and social media is now the new way to get your info out there.
    Randomly, we wrote a blog post about this, check it out if your interested. http://www.ebsiwebsites.com/_blog/EBSI_Main_Blog/post/mediaroom/
    Anyways, good post. I liked reading it.


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