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This past week was not a good for print news media.

For starters, a PewResearchCenter poll found that only 29% of Americans surveyed said they read a newspaper the previous day, with only 23%  reading a print version.

The survey also found that Americans still like to read, with 51% saying they enjoy reading a lot, but an increasing number of them are reading papers digitally.

Print magazine and book reading are also down significantly, the poll found.

Then, it was disclosed that “senior figures” at the UKGuardian and Observer newspapers were “seriously discussing” ending print editions and going entirely online.

Finally, Newsweek announced that it will go to an all-digital format, ending a nearly 80-year reign in print. In covering this announcement The Wall Street Journal noted, “The switch will make Newsweek the most widely read magazine yet that has given up on the print media, a signpost of how traditional print news outlets are being battered by an exodus of readers and advertisers to the Web.”

In today’s edition of The Journal, “Sentiment Tracker: A computational analysis of the conversations on social networks,” found only 10% saying they’ll miss the print version. The following are a few snippets of online reaction, as reported by The Journal:

  •  “Congratulations to Newsweek: You are now a blog!”
  • “No one bought the mag. And no one will subscribe for digital membership.”
  • “The problems are deeper than the digital revolution.”
  • “Will all magazines be doing this soon?”

For many of the surviving print publications, these pressures have resulted in reductions of staff and coverage, and in my opinion their overall quality and relevance have suffered.

A print newspaper that once dominated a market now finds itself facing competition from Internet sites that focus on local news, as well as blogs. To make matters even worse, many people are not willing to pay for online news.

For PR people, there’s good and bad news in all this. The bad news is that it’s getting tougher to get stories placed in print publications. But on the positive side, more choices exists for outlets to cover news and feature stories.

A number of years ago I had a medical client in another state that wanted publicity in the local market. One newspaper dominated the entire market. I crafted one good story pitch after another, each of which had a strong local angle—only to find each one rejected by the local paper.

This client did quite a bit of advertising with the local paper, so one day I decided to call the ad rep and see if I could get some insight into why I was having such difficulty getting anyone at the paper to give me the time of day. After sharing my tale of woe, the ad rep replied, “I hear that all the time!”

She went on to disclose a bit of her frustration—as well as the frustration expressed by so many of the local advertisers with whom she was in regular contact—that the editorial staff simply refused to consider ideas from the outside. If the reporters didn’t come up with the idea, it wasn’t worth exploring.

That sort of arrogance, combined with being out of touch with the community the paper served, is one example of why so many people are looking elsewhere for news and information.

Most print newspapers also have an online version these days, but if they aren’t covering stories their customers want to hear about, neither format is going to do very well in the face of increased competition.

Another benefit to the explosion of online for ad agency and small business PR is that much more information is available about the types of stories particular reporters are interested in covering, along with their personal preferences, likes and dislikes. You can learn a lot by reading a reporter’s blog, online archive of stories or by following him/her on Twitter or Facebook.

Of course the reason winners are consumers, because they now have more choices than ever for where and how they get their news. Print reporters would do well to consider that before automatically dismissing story ideas because they didn’t think of them first.

Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to advertising agencies and businesses.

photo credit: engineroomblog via photopin cc

Decline of Print Media Presents Challenges and Opportunities for Ad Agency PR

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