Public relations and journalists have always had a love-hate relationship; simultaneously relying on each other for their professional livelihood while at the same time holding untold (and sometimes voiced) resentment.
They are like conjoined twins that constantly squabble.
Both professions are miss-understood by the general public, but well understood by the other. Today, the facts are that there are becoming less professional journalist and more public relations professionals. And the trend is getting more dramatic.
In their book, The Death and Life of American Journalism Robert McChesney and John Nichols tracked the number of people working in journalism since 1980 and compared it to the numbers for public relations. Using data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, they found that the number of journalists has fallen drastically while public relations people have multiplied at an even faster rate. In 1980, there were about 45 PR workers per one hundred thousand population compared with 36 journalists. In 2008, there were 90 PR people per one hundred thousand compared to 25 journalists. That’s a ratio of more than three-to-one, better equipped, better financed.
Oh, and that was 2008 – in the USA. One can only imagine how those stats have multiplied in the past 4 years taken at a global level.
The researcher who worked with McChesney and Nichols, R. Jamil Jonna, used census data to track revenues at public relations agencies between 1997 and 2007. He found that revenues went from $3.5 billion to $8.75 billion. Over the same period, paid employees at the agencies went from 38,735 to 50,499, a healthy 30 percent growth in jobs. And those figures include only independent public relations agencies—they don’t include PR people who work for big companies, lobbying outfits, advertising agencies, non-profits, or government.
Traditional journalism, of course, has been headed in the opposite direction. The Newspaper Association of America reported that newspaper advertising revenue dropped from an all-time high of $49 billion in 2000 to $22 billion in 2009. That’s right - more than half. A lot of that loss is due to the recession. But even the most upbeat news executive has to admit that many of those dollars are not coming back soon.
So, do PR folks and journalists even need to play friendly. My father was a serious journalists having worked in several countries and eventually settling in the UK writing for The Times and The Sunday Times. I’ve been involved in public relations (both client and agency side) for over 15 years, so maybe my view is bias, but even in the day of citizen journalism and hyper blogging, the scope of a PR pro and a professional journalist rely on the skills, contacts and reach of each other.
Assuming they have to play in the same sand box, how do PR and journalist folks reconcile the difference in number and budgets to hand?
Well, the number game is not so difficult. With the ever-increasing efficiencies of technology, there is not only the ability to communicate with multiple people at once (it was only 15 years ago when the best way to do this was to print and envelope stuff your press release), but we can use these tools to understand and build stronger relationships.
One of the age-old truisms for a PR pro is to understand the media and the journalist’s contributions before pitching. Only ten years ago a PR agency would have piles of newspapers and magazines going back at least a year. Of course there in no reason for this any more.
So we can speak quicker, to more people, with more meaning and at a deeper level then ever before. This goes for PR pros and journalists equally.
What has caused the budget differences? In other words why the increase in PR? I think that is relatively simple.
1 – Globalization. More companies are conducting business outside of their home city, so need to have a PR strategy in place to speak to their potential and existing customers.
2 – The cost to offer PR services has decreased. Therefore more PR agencies can offer the service (it’s still a relatively low cost business to start) and more companies can afford to use these professionals (or carry the function in-house). The fact that there are less traditional media outlets doesn’t really matter – the fact that are so many non-traditional media available just increases the requirement of the PR agency.
3 – Those larger companies that were already implementing an integrated marketing program have spent the past 10 years shifting their expenditure within the marketing functions – money coming from the advertising line item and flowing to the PR and social media line items.
4 – More media is now consumed by more people. So what if there are less newspapers in existence? How many people did actually read multiple newspapers who were not directly involved in the industry? If you were the type of person who read a newspaper in yesteryear, there are still plenty to choose from. And the number of people logging in online to news / views from newspapers, blogs, twitter, facebook etc etc far exceeds newspaper subscription rates in the past. Oh, the fact that so much media is actually free to consumers doesn’t hurt either.
So yes, the PR pro needs the journalist, and for a journalist to act professionally and profitably (they are of course producing and writing more stories, quicker, than ever before) they need the PR pros.
The technology allows for greater communication and sharing of knowledge.
Now all we need to do it get the remaining children to stop squabbling in the name of better media for all.