To deliver resilient public relations, communications strategy needs to demonstrate flexibility and competent response to foreseeable change. Digital media has been on the up-and-up since the mid ‘90s, and it’s not a new notion that public relations operates in a very different environment now to that of the print media age.
So, how will digital news pay walls affect your public relations plan?what do the latest media business changes mean for our strategic planning in public relations?
Predictably, the revolution in news delivery and consumption has culminated in some publishers adopting a pay-for-content model. Last Monday Australia’s highest circulation daily, the Herald Sun, launched its digital subscription offer. This puts ‘premium’ digital content (for example: comment by Andrew Bolt and Terry McCrann) behind a user-pays barrier, although readers can sign on now and receive free access to all Herald Sun’s digital news for the first 2 months, read more Herald Sun prepares to turn on paywall. A revamped Herald Sun website was also unveiled with the launch of their digital subscriptions.
The Herald Sun is News Limited’s most recent title to erect a pay wall, since The Australian began charging for digital content last October. Both these Australian titles follow the lead of Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal and The Times of London, which launched pay walls in 1997 and 2010 respectively.
Debate is rife about the commercial viability, the reasoning, and the editorial implications of pay walls for digital news media. But, for public relations professionals, the reality is that we will be dealing with fundamental changes to some of the publicity channels we use, and this should be considered in the development of communications strategy.
Primarily the changes relate to:
a) The audience (readers) that we can hope to reach by a particular channel (readership numbers, demographics, and characteristics may change).
b) The way the channel is able to convey the information we seek to communicate.
c) The long term survival of some Australian news agencies that we use as communication channels.
A competent response might include diversifying channel choice in the short term, until solid data about readership and circulation is available to inform choices. Then, once the dust has settled, in some cases pay-for-content will make it easier for PR professionals to know who they’re reaching through the news delivered by particular agencies.
Whether the pay wall turns out to be long or short term, and which particular news agencies take up – or continue – a pay-for-content model, remain to be seen. Media relations staff will have plenty of homework to do as they monitor variation to the readerships of the media channels they use.
These unfolding changes present an interesting work setting for people in PR jobs, whose adaptability in strategic planning will be tested. This will be particularly true for media relations staff who will be called upon to provide expert advice.
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