By Jennifer R. Farmer
At the end of 2019, I wrote an article titled, “The Media is Contracting: Now What?” We are a few weeks away from 2021, and guess what? The media is still contracting. There have been more jobs lost in the media industry this year than there has been since 2008. According to The Hill, “An estimated 28,637 cuts were reported in the industry by late October, …nearly as many as the record 28,803 reported in the media sector in 2008. By comparison, the sector saw just over 10,000 job losses in 2019 and 15,474 in 2018.”
If there was ever a time to think through approaches to media, that time is now. My question today is the one I asked a year ago: what will you do to ensure your brand is able to continue to tell its story?
As I shared in my earlier piece, if you are relying on media coverage to elevate your work and brand, you will need to develop a different blueprint than what you may have used in the past. Due to contractions in the media spurred by layoffs and media consolidations, earned media – or media that you do not pay for – is becoming harder to come by. Having a good story is no longer enough to secure media coverage.
To garner media attention in a contracting and increasingly competitive media market, organizations will need to:
- Invest in Paid Media. Now. Relying on earned media alone is risky. I am increasingly learning that television hosts and many high-profile radio programs want people with celebrity. They want people who come with their own followers and fan base. That increases the likelihood that their content will be viewed by a larger swath of people. That is important because producers, hosts, writers, and reporters live in a competitive market, just like the rest of us. They need to produce page views, likes, retweets and shares. The bigger the name and profile of the guest they book, the more likely they are to have their content shared by more and more people. Further, because of reductions in advertising revenue, many outlets are financially strapped. They need and appreciate the revenue that comes with advertising. For those two reasons, brands with resources will need to invest in paid media. The investment can be as low as $2,500 for some outlets, and it can go up from there. Of course, when it comes to social media, one can make minimal investment and gain maximum results. With social media advertising, paid media is more affordable than ever. In an environment where there are more and more job cuts and less representation in terms of who is in front of and behind the camera, paid media enables brands to bring their content to the world. Brands will need to get very specific and precise with targeting to ensure that their message reaches its intended audience.
- Create Your Own Content Channels. Campaigns and brands that want coverage will need to turn to self-publishing platforms, such as Medium, Blavity, YouTube, etc. Creating one’s own content channels enables brands and organizations to immediately get their message out. It also ensures their control over the message and the probability of it being seen by their intended audience. Further, creating one’s own content channels makes reporting as easy as possible for journalists once they find you. Whether it is the company website; podcasts; or videos on Facebook, Vimeo, TikTok, etc., the people who move messages will be the people who control the content and the speed at which it is disseminated.
- Cultivate a Loyal Fan Base. It is essential to focus on building your brand and developing a loyal following. The bigger your following, the more influence you have. When brands focus of delivering to their audience and serving their audience’s needs, they develop a cult-like following. That is attractive to producers, reporters and hosts – hence the reason influencers are so attractive to media figures. I am increasingly encouraging clients to serve their people. In time, that service will pay off. Brands and organizations can do that by ensuring frequent communication with their followers and content that is tailored to their audience’s needs and wants. Make your audience know that you see them, and they will ensure the world sees you.
- Ride the wave. A great way to increase the likelihood of media coverage is riding the wave. That means following the topics highlighted in the news cycle and tailoring your topic to that which is most relevant to what reporters are discussing. To the extent that you can tie your news story to issues the media is presently covering and will soon cover, such as political, cultural and life-altering anniversaries, it may be easier to get media coverage. As we head into 2021, we know there will be stories about the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine, stories about what the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden will look like during a pandemic, stories about Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ historic role, and stories about the Martin Luther King Jr. and Black History month holidays. If you are an organization or leader who focuses on those issues, even remotely, think about your content plans now. Plan and then ride the wave.
- Be Ready to Pounce. As much as we like to plan, there are some things we can never anticipate. That is why rapid-response communications is important. Rapid response is quick mobilization of communications resources to respond to a crisis or unforeseen issue. When the unexpected happens and you have deep knowledge or insights on the issue, be ready to pounce. Immediately craft or have someone in your team craft a story or pitch speaking to the issue at hand. Sometimes the prospects of media coverage can fall in one’s lap. Should that happen, do not drop the ball. Monitor media trends and the news cycle carefully. And when you see an opportunity, pounce.
As someone who has worked with the media for 18 years, I know how hard garnering media attention has become. But I also know how to pivot and align myself for the possibility of good coverage. The ideas I shared above will help you to do the same. Times are changing, and we must change as well.
Jennifer R. Farmer is a writer, trainer and activist communicator. She is the author of “Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide” and the forthcoming book “First and Only: How Black Women Thrive at Work and Life.” Follow her on IG/Twitter using @pr_whisperer.