As lines between advertising and news blur, what’s a PR pro to do?

News outlets are increasingly tying their coverage choices to their advertising departments. That may mean a different approach to pitching.

Editorial is unpaid. Advertorial is paid. Simple, right? Try again.

Prior to websites and blogs, public relations practitioners spent countless hours pitching their stories to newspapers, long-lead publications such as magazines, radio stations and television stations. When it came to covering what was newsworthy, reporters were more than eager to speak with the designated spokesperson about X, Y and Z.

Now, imagine having to not only secure the interest of the reporter, but also get consent from the advertising department for that media outlet. For those working in public relations, this is quickly becoming a reality. Recently, I secured an interview for a client on a regional television station in Canada. My media contact was more than pleased to have my client on for a demonstration and a chat as to what was happening at his attraction.

Fast-forward one week later. The interview opportunity was taken off the table. Why? The advertising department had tried and failed to sign an advertising deal with the client and were uneasy about having someone on air who had yet to spend a dollar of their budget on advertising with the aforementioned television station.

There used be a great divide between the advertising and editorial departments of media outlets; they operated in separate silos and never the twain shall meet. But those days are gone. At the end of the day, the media is a business, and it’s a tough business. Revenues are drying up, falling year after year. It makes good business sense to make way for earned media opportunities buy buying paid advertising space.

While it may be a shrewd business move, it is a new challenge for public relations practitioners. This is the new reality in which they work as they clamor to secure media coverage for their client’s newest product or event. Not all media rooms and advertising departments for every media outlet conduct business in such a manner, but it’s becoming a weekly, if not every day, occurrence.

So, what does this mean for public relations practitioners?

Communicate with your media contacts. Public relations practitioners need to educate themselves on the nuances of each media outlet. How? Speak with your media contacts. If your media contact receives push back from advertising, encourage open dialogue. Share what you learned with your client. Ask them to put the media outlet on their radar for a future ad, if there’s a fit.

Educate your client. Let them know they may face this reality today or tomorrow. Your client needs to understand that media is a business. And as such, they too, need to bring revenue in to pay their reporters and keep the lights on.

Educate yourself. You will benefit from knowing your client’s advertising strategy. With awareness of their ad approach, you can better target potential media outlets for coverage, and better tailor pitches to journalists.

Broaden your horizons. It is a rapidly changing media world, and a byproduct of this evolution is more channels from which you can share your client’s story. No longer do we have to rely on the traditional mainstream media. There is always a home for interesting, engaging content and with the Web literally at your fingertips, you have a multitude of options for sharing that content.

Stephen Murdoch is Vice President of Public Relations for Enterprise Canada and a part-time instructor in the Post-Graduate PR program at Niagara College. Follow him on Twitter @canadianprguy. (Image via)

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