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It’s not decline, it’s evolution…and earned content is king

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It’s not decline, it’s evolution…and earned content is king

As a PR who has spent 20 years in a comfortably familiar love-hate relationship with the national press, I find myself in unchartered waters: considering an unfathomable future without print media.

Our two industries are so intrinsically linked, it is hard to imagine one without the other.

Yet, over a month into lockdown, the communications industry is still very much alive and kicking. Plenty of concern for the future of paid advertising, for sure; but earned media, on all its beautifully diverse channels and platforms, is having its moment in Britain’s 23 million homes.

On the one hand, the end of the daily newspaper was one we all saw coming. Successive print innovations have failed, to a more or lesser extent, to curb an inevitable march to online consumption. Just as Covid-19 may have accelerated the slow death of high streets, as we realise we can actually buy everything online, so lockdown has left many questioning why they held on to that daily print title for so long.

Digital news is, after all, more, well, newsy. And as a country glued to our hand-held screens in anticipation of the latest Number 10 proclamation on how we may live our lives, receiving this information even a matter of hours later than the rest of Britain feels distinctly unattractive.

So what’s the role of the PR in all of this? Hacks and Flacks have had decades-long public spats, while maintaining a healthy respect where it is due. Journalists need PRs to provide access, insight tracks, the facts and figures behind the stories. And PRs have always needed influential journalists to deliver the story. A decline in print journalism is one we communicators should all feel personally and painfully.

But contrary to hyperbole, journalism is not dying. Traffic to FT.com has grown 250 per cent year-on-year over the past month. The Telegraph’s podcasts have seen a 55 per cent uplift, and further afield, the Guardian’s US and Australia online subsidiaries have smashed all previous records.

In my mind, there is not a question of if Covid-19 will deal a final death knell to independent, high quality journalism. It won’t. You only need to read of the 60 5G masts set on fire through the ignorance that is fake journalism to see the very real need for our professional media. There is, now more than ever, public demand for the steady rudder of relatively unbiased, quality editorial, to guide us through these unchartered waters. We are all too aware of how easy it would be, in these times of self-isolation, to lose ourselves in a chasm of twitter-fuelled catastrophizing in pursuit of fact. No, Covid-19 is not a Russian plot to overthrow China. And no, locking up our cats won’t save us.

Covid-19 may leave newsstands depleted for the long term. But it has finally sent millions of traditionalists into the digital age and these people need content. They need the quality journalism they’ve bought into for decades via the daily paper round – and that isn’t the stuff of Google.

So here is the opportunity for PRs – and for the thousands of organisations we represent. There is no business in Britain right now which doesn’t have a captive online audience. Regardless of product, demographic, path to purchase…your customers are consuming digital content, because there is no other way. And our job – in partnership with the evolving national media – is to give it to them. Content that is short, sharp and shareable; engaging, visual and empathetic. Content people want to consume in isolation – or that allows them to escape. Content that tells human stories and exemplifies the purpose behind the businesses that will help rebuild Britain.

Your business, like some of the media outlets we have grown up with, may have been late to the party going digital-first; but now, that party’s really getting started.

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