As a former Army Officer, one of the many useful skills I picked up was the ability to analyse a fluid situation and accurately predict an opponent's next course of action. The secret to it, is being able to identify and find the one critical unit they need in order to be successful. For example, if there was a major river the enemy had to cross to attack you, you just needed to find their engineer bridging unit and you'd know where they plan to cross.
Translated into a non-Army context, it's filtering out the flood of information and picking the one news item that 'rings the bell' of a future trend. Well, the bell tolled (again) this week for media relations.
It was a short news article from Roy Morgan on the four week readership levels of modern newspapers (including print, online and app versions). The conclusion of the article is that less than a quarter (barely 5.7 million) of Australians read one of the top newspapers in a given four week period. Why is this so 'bell-worthy'? There's nothing all that new about the fragmentation of audiences and the massive downsizing of the Australian media industry.
The importance of the article comes from what this means to the Australian PR industry. When you consider that media relations often makes up to 80% of an agency's revenue, you begin to understand it's an issue that keeps agency owners up at night. Or should.
For those not close to the inner workings of a PR agency, over the past 100 or so years of PR practice, 'publicity' or 'media relations' or simply 'getting a client's point of view or product into the media' has made up the majority of their business. Even the term 'PR' has become synonymous with it - shows like Absolutely Fabulous, Spin City and Wag the Dog have reinforced the connection in the collective audience consciousness. To put it bluntly, it has been the PR industry's holy ground, their point of difference from other marketing agencies and the one piece of the marketing puzzle of which they can claim total expertise.
But if less than a quarter of people are reading newspapers (and you can draw similar parallels in the other mainstream media outlets), it greatly diminishes the business value for a client to invest in what they understand to be PR (and many clients just see it as media relations). My hunch is it's also why we've seen such fervor from PR leaders around why PR should 'own' social media and their plans to restructure and take on the ad agencies. PR agencies are simply looking for ways to fill the looming revenue hole.
But before anyone breaks out the pitch forks, I am not saying that media relations is dead, dying or going to disappear altogether. I am saying that the media relations pie is rapidly shrinking which means pitches will be more competitive, there will be less revenue at stake and price (and margin) will be two of the first casualties.
The reality is that not every one of the 70 odd agencies in Sydney (and similar in other cities) will be able to sustain growth, which impacts on local PR jobs and raises the issue of what skills are needed for the future. And thus we come to why I penned this piece.
How do agencies fill the revenue gap? I'll give you a hint. Start thinking about the value of communications to organisational change (an eternal constant) and that bell tolling won't wake you up at night.
*With apologies to John Donne (1624) for eviscerating his eloquent phrase.
Original article written by Anthony Lowe, Director, The Roxburgh Group. The Roxburgh Group provides support services to Australian communication professionals and agencies.