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The PR impact of a dying press

With printed newspapers facing the toughest fight of their lives to survive in these tough economical and digital times, what will be the impact on the PR sector if papers continue to die?

Okay, let’s get the bad news out of the way. In 2009, traditional ‘dead wood’ printed media had a torrid time: thelondonpaper - folded; LondonLite - gone; Evening Standard - now free; Birmingham Post - reduced from daily to weekly. All these developments took place in just a matter of weeks, but what’s next and what are the implications for PRs?

Global advertising spend was predicted to fall by around 10% by the end of 2009, with the UK worst hit with a fall of around 13.1%, and a decline of 2.5% forecast in 2010. From a PR perspective that means less editorial space and fewer employed journalists to talk to, making it a lot harder to get your news covered and your features placed. But there is good news, and that is that we’ve seen an exponential growth in citizen media with online communities increasingly breaking news and emerging as key influencers.

With 58.4 million global visitors in September 2009 (excluding mobile or desktop app usage), Twitter is being adopted as a mainstream communication channel, offering PR opportunities for monitoring rising trends, talking with influencers, and broadcasting news, both directly and through social media’s powerful word of mouth.

Internet advertising is expected to grow 9%, and that will drive the traditional media to look for new on-line outlets.

On-Line PR has really taken off in the past 12 months, resulting in new opportunities as both ‘branded’ on-line news channels increase their presence, and ‘citizen journalists’ also extend their influence. A year ago, few of us had even heard of Twitter but it is already favoured by Fortune 100 companies (54%) over corporate blogs (32%) and Facebook (29%) as the social media platforms of choice.

Twitter has seen a 3 digit growth in 2009, and was on track to reach 18 million users by the end of the year. It is claimed that 19% of internet users in the USA are already on Twitter.

In the UK as elsewhere, Twitter is being adopted as a mainstream two-way communication channel, both for talking to the media, and as a way the media can talk to their audience.

What’s the evidence?

Channel 4 News presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy invites the Twitteratti to give him interview questions ahead of news programmes

Chris Evans features Twitter reaction on his Radio2 Breakfast show - instant feedback, live on-air

Fifth Gear sought Twitter consensus before deciding to send Vicki Butler-Henderson on a car launch

Car magazines - trade and consumer - are talking to their readers as well as manufacturers, and Tweet frenetically from motor shows and car launches

PRs are releasing news and images on Twitter ahead of sending out press releases. Tuned-in journalists are therefore getting a heads-up on news before their competitors

The Today programme Tweets about what’s coming up, and how a particular programme or interview went

Tuned-in journalists follow PR Twitter sites to gather news and to keep in touch with the rumour mill

In terms of crisis PR management, the term Twitterstorm has been coined for the instant and voluble feedback to things an audience has an opinion on. Just ask Jan Moir/Daily Mail about Stephen Gately; AA Gill about shooting baboons; and lawyers Carter Ruck about Trafigura and The Guardian.

Meanwhile, to maximise the communication around its recalls crisis, Toyota GB employed almost every form of on-line PR to stay in touch with its stakeholders; from YouTube video statements from its MD, to Tweets to customers, dealers and the media. This level of transparency and openness had never been seen before, and won the PR team much support and admiration from the specialist press and the industry, including their competitors.

So what does this mean for PRs?

Clearly social media is not just a fad. The clued-up are already fully immersed, communicating direct 24:7 with online media and new influencers, refining their contact lists of journalists and bloggers and actively embracing Twitter et al into their PR programmes.

And more importantly, keeping tabs on the next new change lurking just around the corner.

It’s not media as we knew it, but, if you’re not engaged with this rapid level of evolution, you’ll probably be changing your career.

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