By Lucy Siegel | April 19, 2021

Newspapers have been in decline for 20 years. Newspaper advertising revenue peaked in 2000 and has been declining ever since. According to research done by the University of North Caroline’s School of Media and Journalism, this resulted in the death of 20% of U.S. newspapers between 2004 and 2019 – thousands of papers. The United States is not the only country where news organizations are suffering greatly.  Most other countries around the world are experiencing declines, also.

This decline has created a severe shortage of local news reporting, which has significant consequences for all society, not just for the media industry. The amount of information available to citizens about their local governments, corporations, and institutions has declined steeply in the United States. A report published by The Brookings Institution in 2019 notes that the decline in local news reporting “has left millions of Americans without a vital source of local news and deprived communities of an institution essential for exposing wrongdoing and encouraging civic engagement. Of those still surviving, many have laid off reporters, reduced coverage, and pulled back circulation.” According to Brookings, more than 65 million Americans live in counties with only one local newspaper—or none at all.

The bottom line is that many thousands fewer journalists now report on how local news. People are less informed about how their local governments are spending tax money, how local companies treat employees and are winning or losing in the marketplace, and how local school boards are running the schools.

Many of the laid-off reporters and editors have found work in public relations. The result of more PR people and fewer journalists is that there are now six PR people to each working journalist. The competition to pitch a story to the remaining news reporters is highly intense, making media relations more labor-intensive.

So what’s a hard-working, well-intended public relations professional to do to get across clients’ messages? A big part of the answer is developing marketing content and making it available to both the public and the media. Marketing content is often referred to as “owned media,” communications material produced by an organization – a company, non-profit or governmental organization. According to digital marketing expert Heidi Cohen, “An owned media platform is a content management system where the information, its format, and the means of distribution are totally under your organization’s control.”

There are obvious advantages in having control of content: you can say whatever you like and include the key messages you want your audiences to hear about your organization. From the content to the platform used to showcase it, to the way it is distributed to people, the entire program is under your own organization’s control. This system is unlike “earned media,” reporting by journalists in news outlets such as newspapers (online and in print) and TV and radio news, where you provide input but do not have control over the outcome. On the other hand, earned media is still, hands down, the most credible way to get your message out. But with fewer and fewer local news outlets, it has become challenging, if not impossible, to earn local media coverage, depending on the number of local media remaining in your area.

Marketing content can appear in many forms and serve multiple purposes. Owned media can range from articles published on an organization’s website or emailed in a newsletter to potential customers to social media, videos, events such as workshops or contests, and even games. Virtual reality is one of the newest media creators of owned content are using.

By optimizing the content for search engines (SEO), you can draw people to it. Marketing content on a website helps bring potential clients to that site. But there are plenty of ways offline events can promote a local organization. For example, a brokerage firm, bank, or accounting firm can offer a workshop on retirement finances, saving for college, or tips on home financing. A wine and cheese party can help bring visitors to the opening of a new art gallery exhibit. Clothing retailers may have fashion shows featuring the latest designer styles. A local gardening supply company can sponsor a gardening competition. The organizers can promote these offline events online on a company’s website and social media.

Owned media is most successful when it is helpful, informational, and educational, not promotional like advertising. Advertising has become less and less effective due to ever-declining consumer trust in ads and the advent of ad blockers.

The best content gets shared by people. That is why using social media in conjunction with creating content is a great way to distribute it. Which social media platforms you choose will depend on which audiences you want to reach. For example, teenagers spend a lot of time on Snapchat, where you can post visual content. Businesspeople hang out on LinkedIn, which has groups organized by industry and subject matter. Older adults are most active on Facebook and image sites such as Instagram and Pinterest.

New platforms such as Clubhouse will reach “early adopters” – opinion leaders.  Clubhouse, an audio chat platform, has sprung up within the past year. To join, you must receive an invitation, which makes the platform all the more desirable. (Rest assured, it is not that difficult to get an invitation.) Famous people, ranging from Tesla founder Elon Musk to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, have been known to drop in to chat on Clubhouse, making it a hot place to be right now. On Clubhouse, members can follow other members, whether they are friends or celebrities, and they will receive notification if the people they follow are chatting online. Any Clubhouse member can create a room to chat and talk about whatever they like. Therefore, it is possible to host a chat on a subject that will inform or educate people about something that will help build visibility for a local company or organization.  For example, a Vermont real estate broker has set up a chat room to talk about real estate, including house flipping, construction, and real estate investment. Perhaps that local gardening company mentioned above can sponsor a weekly chat where people can ask store owners their gardening questions.

Marketing content isn’t the only way to fill the void that local news organizations used to fill. It is one piece of the PESO model of communications, which includes paid content (advertising), earned content, shared content (social media), and owned (marketing) content. For more information about the PESO model and how the balance has shifted some weight away from earned media to other forms of communication, read our earlier blog post, Two PR Trends to Watch for Significant Marketing Changes.