Media in 2021: Earn it, Own it and Share it

December 18, 2020

While we are all hoping 2021 is going to be a better year than 2020 and that many things in our lives will return to their pre-pandemic “norms,” the fact is that the media landscape has been changing and contracting for years—and will continue to do so in 2021.

To put today’s media landscape into context, consider these statistics from the Pew Research Center:

  • About one-third of Americans are consuming their news through aggregators, namely Google News and Apple News.
  • About a quarter of U.S. adults (26%) say they get their news from YouTube.
  • Newspaper revenue declined 42% from 2019 to 2020; while circulation dipped 8%. U.S. newspapers have shed half of their newsroom employees since 2008.
  • Just over half of Americans are fairly confident they can differentiate between organizations that do original reporting and those that don’t; 43% are either not too confident or not at all confident they can identify organizations that do their own reporting.

To summarize: Print news continues its decline; more people are getting their news from online sources; and Americans cannot distinguish news organizations that do original reporting. And while the way Americans consume news continues to morph, the way we approach media must as well.

Content is still the key to successful media coverage and outlined here are three ways to prepare your media programs for 2021:

1. Earn it. Despite the decline in traditional news sources, earned media is still achievable and highly coveted. But we cannot do it the same way as before. It requires much more upfront work: using data analytics to study the conversations, journalists and outlets and then investing in the development of creative, strategic content. The days of developing a media list and a semi-targeted pitch as the centerpiece of getting earned media coverage are long gone. Today, we have to strategically deploy our entire arsenal of media weapons to get media traction. Those also include looking beyond the usual suspects; as an example, how about making a product or technology part of an opening bit on Jimmy Kimmel Live or a question on Jeopardy, instead of just shooting for the New York Times?

2. Own it. While many journalists’ jobs have unfortunately been eliminated, this does not mean that media outlets—from trade magazines to websites—are not looking for bylines and commentaries. Additionally, many brands and companies are starting their own podcasts to tell their stories. With podcasts, there are lower barriers to entry and potentially a great opportunity to captivate key stakeholders, making podcasting a great way for companies to share their brand messages. Another way to own your content is to bypass the media and go straight to the journalists. For example, APCO has had great success in working with organizations like the Poynter Institute and the National Association of Black Journalists, in producing content and events that go directly to journalists.

3. Share it. More than ever before, getting media coverage is only the first step in a two-step process, with the second step being meaningful engagement with that piece of coverage. In fact, many of our APCO clients are asking that we create and then meet and exceed Key Performance Indicators around content engagement. From retweets to shares, to the specific influencers engaging with the content, we are digging deeper to look beyond impressions to measuring meaningful engagement.

Finally, none of this works without a great story. APCO’s Global Creative Director, Howard Pulchin, offers these best practices:

1. Prioritize stories that travel well versus one story that is placed well. We need to truly consider stories that can travel across time, country, media outlet, media platforms and audiences. All too often we build a story for one media outlet or audience—we need to look at how every story can and should have multiple lives.

2. Stories that are less about us and more about our audiences and society at large. We need to consider how our stories can be less about a company’s message or talking points, but more about what’s going on beyond company walls. How do we take our stories and cast them with a focus on what’s going on in the stakeholders’ worlds?

3. Stories that showcase a full range of people and not just C-suite. It’s less about what a company does, but how they enable people to perform, live, operate and make the world a better place. And it can’t just be “tell,” we need these stories to “show” how we accomplish this. Stories work better when they are brought to life through people versus messages.

4. Stories of inspiration. No matter what industry or country we operate in, we’re living in tough times. In times of hardship, strife and division. There’s a reason why holiday advertisements work so well. They let people forget their problems for a while. While not truly authentic, they do bring joy and attention to storyteller.

5. Words are important; visuals even more so. A data point is just that: a point. But showing how data comes to life in color is a story. Stories that are visual keep people engaged and asking for more. Visuals are remembered.

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