The media revolution has never been so breathtakingly complex. We are consuming more media than ever, but in more fractured corners. Each day: more than 4m blog posts are published,15.5m new users join social media where they spend an average of 2.5 hours. Meanwhile, CNN is experiencing a precipitous dip: February marked its lowest-rated month in a decade and The Washington Post’s digital subscription numbers dropped 3M from 2021 to 2022. We’re, indeed, living in the most excessively complicated media environment of all time.
Yet, in our industry, what we consider top-tier media remains shockingly static. The New York Times, CNN, Today Show, The Wall Street Journal remain crowning achievements for nearly all PR programs — even as consumption trends show a more complicated picture. Today, the global editors at LinkedIn hold as much clout as New York Times reporters, yet who gets an outsized amount of our attention?
Is there another industry whose standard of excellence has stayed unchanged for decades — even in the face of indelible upheaval? Our industry, however, clings to uninspired top-tier lists and archaic metrics. Today, the Morning Brew podcast or Casey Newton’s Substack have to be known with the same ease as Wired or Good Morning America. And because new, often niche, channels are popping up constantly, we need the agility, and frankly courage, to pivot and pioneer — or get left behind.
To be clear, I’m not calling for incremental changes. We need unprecedented dexterity. I applaud all of the PR pros who invested in Google SEO certifications (present company included), but — surprise — 40% of Gen Z now prefer use TikTok and Instagram for search over Google. Despite the chagrin of Boomers, TikTok continues to explode — more than one and four adults under 30 get their news from TikTok and its trends are shaping our collective culture, whether you’re on the platform or not.
Even traditional media outlets grasp this. ABC News posts on TikTok multiple times a day for its 4.9M followers, The Wall Street Journal has earned nearly 200K followers by adapting its content to TikTok’s signature style — and the list goes on. So why is an earned TikTok strategy not standard practice in our business? We should be recording 15-sec quotes that journalists, and other stakeholders, can easily stitch or duet.
But this transformation has been encroaching on us for a while. Podcasts and newsletters ascended into the new top-tier years ago. The Daily, The New Yorker Radio Hour, Pivot, The Brief are just a few of the wildly popular podcasts. And when it comes to newsletters, more than 90% of Americans subscribe to at least one. A 2019 New York Times story declared, “The inbox is becoming a more attractive media than the news feed.” Why aren’t we encouraging our executives to embrace intimate storytelling in audience-rich newsletters? And rarely do award entries or RFPs showcase a specific audio strategy or include an objective that involves inserting ourselves into people’s inboxes.
Adapting to this new world isn’t easy, but it’s essential. And all signs point to an increasingly fragmented media ecosystem. Micro-communities — niche, often closed, online spaces — are ablaze with new entrants. Reddit’s active user count has grown 44% since last year with 52M daily active users, meanwhile closed communities like Discord, WhatsApp and Slack are now go-to conversation hubs. This, again, calls for reimagining the PR journey. For instance, for a PR campaign reaching parents of school-age children, Parenting is still a target, but also ask: how can I make this content/story/narrative attractive for the school’s WhatsApp group?
PR is no stranger to existential threats: the internet, social media, big data, and generative AI — and yet, we have an uncanny survival instinct. But let’s do more than survive, let’s thrive by fully embracing the chaotic reality of modern media consumption. And the more complex and tangled consumption habits become, the more valuable our roles are — because there is no definitive top tier anymore. And there probably never will be again.