By: Mary Shank Rockman

Public relations specialists now outnumber journalists 6-1; Here’s what MSR Communications’ Principal Mary Shank Rockman believes this means for PR pros and the industry. 

The impact of PR professionals on the media industry is about to change as newsrooms continue to shrink. With readership habits increasingly favoring digital platforms, the media industry has struggled to develop sustainable business models, resulting in widespread layoffs. It’s been happening for a while, but we started seeing more occurrences last year. With no publishers exempt, this trend has affected both legacy newspaper brands and digital natives alike. We’ve seen publishers like The Los Angeles Times, Business Insider, TechCrunch, The Wall Street Journal, and others share the same grim news.

The result is a ratio of six PR professionals for every journalist, and this number is expected to grow. As a PR pro with a 35-year career, this number distresses me greatly. It pains me to see long-time media colleagues whose relationships I’ve come to covet and whose work I’ve relied on and enjoyed, lose their jobs.

So, what do these changes mean for the PR profession and our impact on media coverage? I believe it comes down to three main areas for PR people to sharpen their skill sets:

Relationships:

With more PR professionals competing for journalists’ attention, focusing on the ‘relationship’ aspect of media relations has never been more important. It’s good to nurture existing relationships as you would a friend— check in on them and see how they are doing; after all, we’re all human. A simple ‘thinking of you’ is the kind of gesture that stands out in a sea of pitch emails with interview requests. When you can, connect them with other sources within your network to show them they’re not just in a one-way relationship. If it’s a new contact, treat them like they’re top-tier. Taking the time to get to know journalists builds trust and rapport, making them more likely to consider your pitches and collaborate with you. If they happen to be part of a downsizing, you never know where these relationships will lead—perhaps to that target outlet you’ve been trying to reach.

Research:

Every good PR pro knows to do their homework and personalize pitches to bring value to journalists and their publications. Understanding the landscape requires extensive reading and a solid grasp of your client’s business and industry trends. Thanks to AI tools like ChatGPT and other summarizing tools, it’s now easier to stay on top of trends and conduct thorough research surrounding a new idea; just be sure you’re fact-checking along the way if you’re doing more than summarizing articles. With fewer reporters at top-tier outlets, thoughtful pitches will help PR pros stand out.

Resourcefulness:

The time is now to hone your writing skills and prepare spokespeople to speak with the media on short notice. With limited human resources and columns to fill, reporters have a smaller window to connect with experts who can round out their stories or provide the necessary background information needed to create compelling and accurate articles. Develop a protocol for breaking news or issues jacking that your team can use to quickly fill media requests, whether it’s a shared calendar for booking interviews or prepared drawer statements that you can expand on to make approvals go quickly and  smoothly. Those PR pros who work quickly to get reporters what they need become trusted resources.

Conclusion

While newsrooms continue to shrink, this change presents an opportunity for PR professionals to redefine our approach. By prioritizing relationship-building, well-researched pitches, and continual strategic resourcefulness, we can continue to be invaluable partners to journalists while spotlighting our clients’ work.