By: Neil Shurtz, Content Creator
Traditional newsrooms are no longer merely shrinking. Outside the top tier of news outlets, they’re becoming nearly nonexistent. Many outlets, including the industry publications that have the unique focus to reach key customer audiences, are changing the way they cover stories. In the past, staff writers (usually journalists by trade) would interview experts to gather information for a critical analysis of an issue. Today, that process is handled more and more often by a network of freelance writers working under the direction of managing editors who handle more stories than ever and are increasingly strapped for good content.
While these freelancers are often capable writers, they’re also frequently not professional journalists and write for hire on a number of topics, mixing material for corporate clients with content for news outlets written under their own bylines. I know this because I’m one of these “content mercenary” freelancers. It doesn’t matter if it’s a technical product brochure, an article about how to winter full time in your RV, or a corporate blog post, if it needs to be written, we’ll run with it. Whether the rise of the jack-of-all-trades content specialist is ultimately judged to be a good thing for news outlets or not, it’s a reality any PR effort must take into account today, both in terms of outreach and in terms of provisioning their own in-house content capabilities.
When everyone’s a writer
Social media and blogging has given everyone on Earth a platform to be a writer and has in many ways unseated the traditional gatekeepers of idea-spreading. But when everyone’s a writer, what makes it special? Social media and blogging are creating an increasing pressure for experts themselves to be the voices heard from outlets. Platforms like Medium allow anyone to publish online in the style of a news outlet, and blogs on corporate websites allow experts and executives to address audiences directly. The Huffington Post was one of the first major outlets to fully embrace this trend, and features articles from a vast array of contributors.
For companies seeking earned media exposure, the message here is clear. In many cases, the resource you have to offer editors is not just a great story, but an expert voice that can tell it directly to their audience as well. Social media and the rise of influencer marketing has intensified this reality. Today, audiences like to hear information from the horse’s mouth.
How to pitch a hired gun, and when to hire one
PR efforts that understand these trends and the day-to-day needs of editors have a huge leg up over those that don’t. Some tweaks to the basic PR crafts of story development, pitch writing, media list building, and outreach strategy are called for. By planning to provide not only expert sources, but content from those experts as well, PR efforts can capture a much wider range of media opportunities.
PR agents must also be increasingly mindful of tailoring their lists to contacts that have real decision-making power. Today’s content mercenaries might have some sway with their editors, or they might have none. A successful pitch to them will always arm them with the tools to make a successful pitch to their editor—which all PR folks know is rarely an easy task.
Of course, while there’s demand for from-the-horse’s-mouth content, it’s not always practical for experts to write as much as they’d want to. That’s where a highly developed team of content specialists that can assist experts in getting their ideas to press really proves its value. PR agencies, like MSR, that make this an integrated part of their earned media services have a clear advantage.
Where does this leave journalists?
In spite of the changes we’ve discussed here, there’s no doubt professional journalism will continue to play an indispensable role in media and society. Audiences may like hearing directly from experts, and much of their discussion may have moved into a space less mediated by journalism, but critical, objective analysis will never be replaced by a sea of voices.
For earned media placements, this means successfully pitching journalists and many editors for inclusion in a staff-written article requires a much more developed offering finely tailored to what an individual journalist wants (or needs) to cover. Interestingly, this has heightened the importance of traditional relationship building between journalists and PR agents—time and tolerance for dud stories has reached zero.
The result is that successful PR agencies today are hybrids: their traditional relationship-based earned media efforts must be top notch to not be drown out, but their ability to provide content in-house is just what some editors are hungry for. Without both, opportunities will inevitably go missed.