Much like the way we access information has evolved, so too has public relations.
Where newspapers and print once dominated, the internet has quickly become the more prevalent source for news, analysis and opinion. Many newspapers have tried to embrace the change, with varying amount of success. Some have put up paywalls, while others aim to generate revenue through advertising.
The majority of specialist and trade publications have also made the jump, in one shape or another. Some have abandoned print completely, including, recently, NME, while others have attempted to build a model where their online platform either complements or simply replicates their print. And the evolution of how content is published and consumed has changed the way PR operates.
For many years, press releases and other items have been issued by email, but it is only in the last five years that many practitioners have started to properly recognise the necessity of a more bespoke approach to print and digital media. And it’s crucial that PR recognises the differences between the two.
Lead times and live news
Where print media is governed by deadlines and publication dates, digital media has the flexibility of a practically universal platform. Stories can be added to websites at any hour and on any day, and the lead times – that is the time between submitting an article and seeing it published – are overwhelmingly far shorter than print. Often, it can take up to two months for a news item to appear in a print publication, particularly if you submit your item just after an issue deadline, so it is important to liaise with editors before supplying your content.
For digital content, this is less crucial, although it obviously remains important to gain an understanding of the kind of content digital publications and their writers wish to see, before issuing copy. Because print lead times are so long, it’s perhaps worth reserving feature-driven PR items or news items that aren’t as time sensitive for these kinds of publications, particularly those that are published monthly.
A new contract for your client, or another hot news story, could be a month and a half old before it’s in front of the eyes of their customers in print, but it could be online within hours, and it’s important that your client understands this. However, if SEO and inbound links are of priority for your client then securing the right digital content can have a huge impact on pushing corporate spaces up search rankings.
Factoring in the correct keywords and backlinks in items on in-house digital platforms can also reap dividends in terms of raising a brand’s awareness.
The real thing
Whilst print does not boast those same capabilities, one of its big advantages is tangibility. Newspapers and magazines are physical publications that you can hold in your hands, that occupy space on your desk or in your magazine file. They have much more staying power than an email or a tab in your browser and are more likely to be read by more than one person, or returned to at a later date.
If your client is looking for substantial coverage with a true legacy then print media may be the platform.
Who knows what the future might hold. Many predicted the demise of print media long ago, but it appears to be out-living expectations.
A number of specialised magazines have closed in favour of going ‘online other’, but the UK’s top-selling national newspapers remains steadfast in their commitment to print. Take up of ‘pay wall’ subscriptions online has not been as healthy as expected and newspapers like The Sun have withdrawn from the model after initially being one of the early adopters.
The landscape may become clearer in the years ahead, but for now, it’s vital that the PR industry recognises and effectively utilises the strengths and weaknesses of print and digital media.