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HomeOpinionsAs journalists evolve, their influence grows – and PR can learn from them

As journalists evolve, their influence grows – and PR can learn from them

The news media today remain some of the most skilled and accomplished storytellers – and their reach is far from declining

Ray Day, IBM

 

Entering a new company and taking the helm of a storied communications team provide a unique benefit – strategic debates with multiple stakeholders about the future direction and positioning of our story and how we tell it.

That is the opportunity I have enjoyed for the last several weeks after being named chief communications officer at IBM. In short order, I have spent time with all of our global leaders and agency colleagues – as well as a long list of potential partners who are all excited by the opportunity to build a world-class comms function.

Nearly every discussion has resulted in a healthy strategic debate. One of the more fascinating conversations, though, centered around this question: Do communicators today still need to focus on earned media relationships or are we better served investing all of our time, resources, and attention in owned media? The argument for the latter is one of “control” and getting ahead of the “decline of journalism as we know it.”

“You should not rely on media organizations,” I was told by a very reputable potential agency newcomer. “These organizations are shrinking. Their coverage is narrowing. Their hold on audiences is weakening. And people are becoming more and more skeptical of the viewer and reader analytics they are reporting.”

“Now is the time to own your own story,” this person continues. “We should produce world-class content for you. We can reach the people who matter most.”

Interesting. And startling.

Upheavals in the journalism world

Without a doubt, we are seeing cosmic upheavals in the way journalism and commerce are practiced today. We have seen the permanent rise of branded content and distribution. Yet I believe having relationships with trusted, credible journalists matters more than ever.

Social media and citizen journalism, of course, have changed the longstanding relationship we all have with the “traditional” news media. These outlets today struggle to maintain relevance, as the deluge of unqualified opinions dilutes the weight of their once unquestioned authority. One telltale figure illustrating this disruption is the total number of U.S. newspaper jobs lost since the dawn of the internet – down from nearly 458,000 jobs in 1990 to 183,000 in March 2016, a decline of right around 60%.

Yet people still yearn for a trusted source – and journalists again are filling that role, even more so as individuals than as representatives of their outlets. The smartest of them have built an audience loyal to their personal brands spread across all platforms.

As influencers, journalists have become omnipresent personalities – they blog, tweet, publish, stream, host, and appear almost nightly on cable television. They are where their message most connects to their audiences. They speak on platforms where their audience naturally exists, as opposed to forcing that audience to come to them. They can speak to people directly. They can do so in ways that feel personal and reassuring in a world of chaos. They communicate a story rather than just facts.

Reinventing themselves

If we’re honest, we could learn a thing or two from “traditional” journalists who have reinvented themselves and their communications model.

Clearly, we live in a world where information is consumed in a wide variety of ways – including earned, owned, and paid media. We also live in an era where communications – whether mass or personalized – moves at lightning speed.

The news media today remain some of the most skilled and accomplished storytellers – and their reach is far from declining. In fact, the savviest journalists will likely be the winners in the coming information-overload shakeout, which will be based on “whom do I trust.”

Clearly, there is a place for owned media. Yet there’s an even bigger place for the trusted earned media that only the news media provide.

Let’s remember that many call our profession PR. The “R” is strategic. It’s about relationships – and those with the traditional news media remain among the most important. Let’s stop the debate and get on with it.

Ray Day is IBM’s chief communications officer, a role he assumed last December following 28 years at Ford Motor Co., including the last decade as the brand’s group VP of communications.

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