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Another day, and another article bashing the growing ranks of PR flacks. The Economist, a British publication, recently ran an article saying the media business was in danger of being overrun by PR professionals. Republican, a publicly-financed American news outlet, also wrote a similar article recently.
As someone who has worked on both sides of the media business, I am concerned about this phenomenon, but I think these articles overlook a more important point. Media critics should also be writing about the dearth of media outlets. The reason why PR pros numbers are growing is because the number of journalists is decreasing.
There have always been more PR pros than journos. PR is a branch of marketing and while there have always been thousands or brands and organizations trying to sell their message or product, there have always been fewer news outlets.
Unfortunately, that problem is getting worse. The ’90s saw the consolidation of major papers and many cities going to one-paper operations. Now, we see many cities served by regional papers and even they are struggling.
This also makes things difficult for PR pros, because fewer news outlets makes it tougher to get our clients placement. I always react with consternation when I hear of a yet another reporter quitting or another media outlet going under. It makes my job more challenging. A local business publication that featured several of my clients was recently shuttered, fortunately most of my clients’ articles found homes with a sister publication. Still, there were a few moments of hair pulling while my associates and I tried to figure out what to do with our clients’ content.
What’s happening now is PR pros are being forced to not only create the content, but also publish it. And this gets into a gray area, because while the reader, who is not an expert in media, thinks he is reading a regular publication, he is actually reading a website or publication created and operated by a PR professional. This is akin to running infomercials during prime time TV. The line between a news release and the actual news has become even murkier.
This also creates some problems for PR pros, because while we can guarantee our clients placement, placement in a publication that you operate doesn’t have the same ring of authority as placement by a third party.
The short answer to this problem is that we need more independent news outlets. However, if I knew the solution to that problem, I would be a millionaire.
While many people see PR pros and journos as having a combative relationship, I realize that we need a thriving press — even if they sometimes make my life difficult. I would rather have reporters constantly calling my phone, than never calling me at all.
Manny Otiko, vice president of social and new media at Desmond & Louis PR, has worked in the public relations and journalism field for about 15 years as a journalist and a media relations specialist. His experience includes stints as a reporter at a daily newspaper, serving as a media relations specialist for a state agency and working for Southern California public relations agencies, Dameron Communications, Tobin and Associates and WunderMarx PR.
Manny has worked with clients in the public affairs, technology, education and economic development fields. He has secured coverage in publications such as The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, the Associated Press, the Wall Street Journal, CNN.com and Men’s Health.
Manny has been published in The Riverside Press Enterprise, The LA Sentinel, The LA Wave, The Washington Afro-Am, IE Weekly and Our Weekly. He is an active member of the Orange County chapter of PRSA, the National Association of Black Journalists and the Black Journalists’ Association of Southern California.