The end of earned media as we know it

If remote working or work from home is changing the way many businesses will function in the future, an overhaul that print media in India is witnessing is altering the conventional or traditional PR consultancy world.  It may well be the end of earned media as we know it and practiced it. 

Sample this. In the pre-COVID-19 era, media relations, content creation and public affairs were considered important activities that accounted for nearly 90% of the PR spends in India says the Public Relations Consultants Association of India report. And about a half of it was hogged by media relations.

Life Support

Now, with the pandemic, print and TV media is on the verge of needing life support. Dwindling advertising revenue is expected to continue post lockdown for a couple of quarters. Several media organisations are rationalising costs and people. In the future, paid news may get a further boost from publishers and broadcasters limiting earned media opportunities. Over the last couple of years, the space for business news has reduced in print. If paid media gets a boost, it is a double whammy for earned media.  

Five years ago, events were not a major revenue earner for print media. Today it is. Five years from hence, we may see paid media making a significant contribution to print revenues. New and innovative ways of rendering paid media content may emerge beyond advertising and advertorial that are there today. This may lead to online news and current affairs portals taking a cue and further experiment paid media as a revenue stream.

Time for PR 3.0 

On the one side, the PRCAI report says of the Rs1600 crore revenues of PR firms in FY 2019, 47% or about Rs.760 crore is media relations. On the other is the data that only 13% of the work combines both digital and PR. Simply put, the PR community has a long way to go before they can claim they have successfully integrated digital and PR. 

What is holding back is talent readiness and adequate investments in technology. The PR community needs to upskill to be a truly integrated consultancy. A digital department within a consultancy world is not real integration. It is similar to advertising firms opening PR departments in the late 1990s to ensure they get the client’s PR spends too. 

Death of PR messaging 

Messaging the way PR has been practicing too will undergo changes. As social media content (messaging) and influencer marketing takes centre stage, what will be required is quick and reactive content and creative content in short or micro form. Digital marketing firms are probably better off today to provide this than PR firms who are experts in long form content and text-based content. 

PR consultancy world needs to up its ante in understanding thoroughly new areas such as data-driven activities, visual communication and campaign-driven works. Clients are emphasising on visual communication (videos and graphics) and are increasingly asking for accurate measurements to show the efficacy of the communication work. Inability to service these requests adequately makes clients believe digital marketing companies are better equipped, both on talent and technology, to undertake digital PR activities than vice-versa of PR companies taking up digital marketing activities.

The year 2020 is likely to be the watershed year for media in India. Consequently, allied sectors like PR and advertising too will see significant upheaval. Who is likely to emerge successfully out of this is a crystal ball game. It is important to note that change, which was optional even a few quarters ago is inevitable today. Consultancy’s survival depends on it. Speed, agility and client’s trust are the factors that will help them drive this transformation.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Radha Radhakrishnan
Radha Radhakrishnan has over 25 years of experience in corporate communications and marketing across different industries and geographies. She has built a reputation as a storyteller and a creative thinker. She has mentored social entrepreneurial startups and has been a visiting faculty at premier communications institutes in India. She is currently the global head of corporate communications at Wipro Enterprises. She anchors the weekly PR and Communication podcast, Mrigashira.

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