Nov 2023

Media Fragmentation, good or bad for PR?

Written by Stevie Harding

Media Fragmentation, good or bad for PR?

The media landscape has fragmented in the digital era, the total amount of engagement with news content has increased, as has total viewership.

Ofcom has found a third of the UK now consume news from a variety of social media accounts, often with small, niche audiences. The ‘mainstream’ media outlets in the early 2000s were likely the largest single media companies that will ever exist. 

It was a unique situation where distribution was constrained by various channels. As a result, a mainstream culture was able to form, where an advert on a single channel could reach millions. The internet has broken down the mainstream somewhat, for good and ill. It’s now possible to be culturally and informationally siloed, which massively changes the landscape for us in PR.

Previously, the competition was high for a limited number of top-tier publications which covered a broad audience. While this remains a target for any PR firm worth its salt, which publications are targeted has become more important than ever.

Finding the right fragment

As a cousin of marketing PR has always been about targeting, not simply microphoning out a message but directing it to the right ears and the now fragmented media landscape has made this easier

Competition has been dispersed between smaller publications (or publications that have shrunk from their peak). Rather than large singular firms that have connections to the largest outlets, smaller teams are able to have more meaningful relationships with groups of specialised journalists. As a result, businesses can have a better return on their investment in PR knowing that their messaging is being concentrated for the greatest effect. The focus of the outlet is not the only variable, the audience that reads publications have also migrated

Diamonds on a beach of rhinestones

For B2B a core group of interest are executives and decision makers in organisations. Traditionally, outlets like Forbes or the Economist have catered to that audience. However publications like Dark Reading or Seeking Alpha have supplanted their appeal with a tighter industry focus. Meanwhile, the largest ‘business’ magazines have used their brand equity to pivot to a more mass market appeal as readership dropped in the early 2010s. Understanding the migration of audiences is now a critical and largely underappreciated aspect of effective, modern PR.

It also means that PR is more important for those industries because access to the top targets is tied to PR firms that specialise in that space. The main benefit for the wider PR industry is that a larger volume of smaller firms operating in smaller spaces has led to greater innovation. Each firm has their own approach to PR that will suit different messages and this marketplace of ideas is pushing the industry to adapt to the new media landscape faster than a single large firm can react.

It’s not all bad news. Thanks to the integration of social media and news, the average audience  member is much more engaged with the content consumed. This engagement ultimately makes PR more effective. Media coverage does not only borrow the authority of the publication, journalists have a personal brand which should be accounted for by the best PR firms. The main takeaway is that while the downfall of Twitter has some claiming that the news landscape will revert back to trusted outlets, it is more likely another iterative shift. Transitions are iterative cycles rather than circles, rather than reverting to a smaller selection of trusted outlets; algorithmic factors are driving consumers to more isolated communities resulting in a further fragmented audience as the ‘digital townsquare’ dynamic of social media is curtailed. 

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