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It’s a jungle out there – the rise of PR in the shifting sands of journalism

The role of ‘public relations manager’ was today named the second-highest growing job in Australia. To those of us working in the industry, this comes as little surprise, as organisations seek methodologies outside of or to compliment marketing and advertising efforts to get their name in front of target audiences, protect their reputation, and build key stakeholder relationships.

We found something interesting, though – there’s a potential correlation in the data, which shows a rise in public relations positions, and a decline in journalism positions. The Australian Bureau of Statistics showed a 32% increase between 2016 and 2019 in public relations managers, and an 18% decline in journalists in the same period.

The figure corresponds with anecdotal evidence suggesting some 3,000 journalism jobs have been lost in Australia in the last decade.

Hardly a day has gone by in the past two years that our team hasn’t heard of another journalist making the leap into public relations or other in-house communication roles. At first it seemed like an outlier approach, and it was easy to put it down to the lure of a better salary or job security, or even individuals capitalising on the relationships they’d built with brands in their capacity as journalists.

But as time has gone by, and these moves are increasingly common, I’m more inclined to put it down to a broader range of factors – the shrinking newsroom (particularly in regional areas), the consolidation of major media houses leading to inevitable cost savings in the form of job cuts, and the difficulty of breaking into the industry at all for journalism graduates.

Brands, too, are waking up to the desirability of having former journalists on their payroll. Bringing a wealth of knowledge on how to craft a compelling story, and how to pitch to win editorial space, journalists have so much to offer in the broader communications world. It seems being a roving reporter is no longer the only option for these talented people.

What this means for marketing managers

The significant decrease in journalists in Australia has huge implications for marketing managers.

Until recently, company announcements could achieve organic and editorial coverage in any number of news outlets, from national publications with specialist focus areas and large audiences, to smaller vertical trade publications with dedicated followers.

Now, the dissemination of news announcements has reached an inflection point, where only the most robust of relationships and skills or the most impressive and unusual of news will gain editorial coverage with the few publications remaining – particularly in the technology space. It’s even becoming exponentially more common for publications to demand remuneration for publishing opinion pieces, usually a core component of any media outreach strategy.

The result? Marketers are telling stories to fewer and fewer sets of ears if they rely on media relations alone in their interactions with PR.

The media industry is changing rapidly – we know this. Consequently, blasting out press releases to the dissolving number of outlets or working journalists is no longer going to cut the mustard.

Quality content marketing, compelling thought leadership strategies, and close examination of the customer journey in relation to content output is required to win as brands battle for increasingly limited column space. It’s the agencies willing to diversify and offer services beyond media relations that will best help brands as the media continues to change – even quicker and more drastically than any of us expect.