Person Consuming News on Phone

TL; DR: Media Relations for the Consumer of the Future

October 22, 2019

When it comes to media, consumers want it fast, brief and swipeable.

ESPN the Magazine. Ann Arbor News. Marie Claire. Ladies Home Journal. Glamour. Pittsburg Post-Gazette. These are just a few of the media outlets that have or are in the process of phasing out their print editions. It’s no surprise that print newspaper circulation continues to decline by double-digits year over year.

Today, according to Pew Research Center, more than 80 percent of American adults get their news online. And for those 35 years old and younger, the first place they go for their news every day is not out to their driveways to pick up their daily paper; it’s while they are still in bed or on the train commuting into work, using their mobile phones. The shift in how we get news is happening quickly and digital news is still evolving and maturing.

However, regardless of platform, news remains an important part of public life, according to Pew. More than seven in 10 American adults somewhat or very closely follow national and local news, and 65 percent follow international news with the same regularity. Half of Americans still get their news from TV and we’ve seen a resurgence of radio, driven in part by the proliferation of podcasts.  Additionally, there are news aggregators, which according to a study by the Reuters Institute and Oxford University, are becoming the news source of choice for younger news consumers.

What does all this mean for communicators? The shift from news delivered on a TV screen or a newspaper to a phone screen has primarily created the need for brevity. According to a 2015 Microsoft study, our collective attention span for reading content online has shrunk to just eight seconds, with many only skimming articles and social media posts. Conversely, some have argued that our attention spans have not shrunk—it’s just that we have too much high-quality content competing for our attention. In any case, when “TL; DR” (too long; didn’t read) is a commonplace acronym, it’s probably sensible to keep our content and our pitches short.

Adding to the complexity, when target audiences are getting their news on Facebook and Instagram and the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, communicators must always be cognizant of matching format and content to the outlet. Successful media outreach requires research on the outlet and the reporter—customizing the message for each. It’s never as simple as creating a media list and sending out some pitch notes. One well-placed story in the right outlet that successfully reaches the target audience may be far more effective than a dozen stories placed elsewhere. We need to be focused on meaningful outcomes and not just outputs, such as impressions.

As communicators, it is also important to ensure we are providing content to media outlets in ways that make sense. We know for example (from Muck Rack’s State of Journalism 2019 report) that images, video and brevity make a story more shareable.

With opportunities to be more creative and more strategic than we have in the past, coupled with the ability to effectively measure the success of our efforts, media relations is more exciting than ever before. Today, we can use media relations to not just measure impressions, but actions, including preferences and product sales. Even with a shrinking number of print outlets, there are plentiful opportunities today to get our stories and messages in front of and shared among our target audiences. The way people consume media is going to continue to evolve, but the role of media relations in the communications mix remains complex and relevant.

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