New News Data Should Stress, Wake Up PR

Perceived or otherwise, the rules of engagement in the PR business used to be pretty simple.

Pay us, we’ll get you into news coverage and that will help drive your business.

While media relations can still be a significant part of what we do for a living, new data shows how the premise and promise are changing because, among other reasons, the news is inching closer to becoming more of a niche consumer product.

We all know there’s not a newspaper dropped on every driveway anymore. We all know alarm clocks aren’t set to go off in order to hear radio newscasts each morning. We all know families aren’t gathering around the dinner table to see what happened today on the TV network news. But what we may not all understand is more consumers are avoiding news because they think it interferes with their lives.

As detailed in this Washington Post story, 38 percent of U.S. respondents to a global survey say they avoid this news sometimes or often, while the percentage of Americans who are “very” interested in the news fell below the majority for the first time. Those surveyed show news consumption “drives feelings of depression, anger, anxiety or helplessness.”

This phenomenon should cause similar symptoms inside the headquarters of every company in the business of news. But it should also sound alarms in the PR business, which has taken too much of a “business as usual” approach over the last 20 years of profound change, consolidation and contraction as news had faced economic challenges that predate this apparent audience disengagement.

Of course, news, across platforms, continues to reach relatively large percentages of most target audiences. At the same time, it’s important to keep trends front of mind when advising clients or working with executives to devise plans. Think about what is truly the best way to connect a message with an audience given the platforms you have available to you, not forgetting about the 42 percent who may be avoiding the news.

For the PR professional concerned about this trend, here’s a bit of advice: Don’t join the growing ranks. Read, watch, listen. The best way to figure out how your idea of news may or may not fit in is still to be an active consumer of news. The stress of not being able to do your job would be worse than any you feel from any story.