In her first blog post for Atlas Partners, Nina Doehmel-Macdonald, explores how the increasing fragmentation of media impacts the world of PR (and why there’s cause to celebrate).
A merger between Trinity Mirror and Northern & Shell Media is on the cards. If approved, the move will mean that a single entity will own and operate almost half of the country’s newspapers. In terms of circulation, the new group would also become the second largest national newspaper organisation, with a 28% share*.
The merger is currently being investigated by the Competition and Markets Authority – a step which many consider justified given the ongoing debate around freedom of opinion and expression. Of course, the announcement in February this year isn’t the only thing that’s keeping the nation’s print pages in flux. A month doesn’t go by without another print title shutting shop. The Independent, Company, Glamour, Interview Magazine and NME have all moved online in the last two years. Whilst their audiences differed, they shared the fact that their print operations were no longer commercially viable.
By contrast, edgier, cause-specific and niche titles are seeing growth. Newsstands are full of beautifully designed pop culture titles like Purple and Pop Magazine, and Balance, a lifestyle magazine, launched both online and in print in 2016 in a response to our national ‘wellbeing’ obsession.
Political and current affairs titles including Private Eye and The Economist have both recently enjoyed a sales boost, and we’ve heard rumours that The Guardian’s circulation is on the up since it adopted the Berliner format last year.
Edelman’s 2018 Trust Barometer found that whilst people are consuming less media (with some actively avoiding it altogether), there has been a vast increase in trust in traditional media** in the UK. Maybe our need for something substantial, researched and more trustworthy is what we hanker after to balance out the fear of fake news. Perhaps the proliferation of the 24/7 news-cycle means we’re all craving a corner and a screen-free twenty minutes to read something that has more longevity than a simple tweet or the latest ‘breaking news’ update from BBC Online.
Of course, there’s a space and need for an online world – that goes without saying. However, it was The Mail on Sunday which first broke the news that Megan Markle’s father had staged photographs a week before the Royal Wedding, not the title’s infamous, celebrity-fuelled ‘sidebar of shame’. KFC published its apology only in the print versions of the Metro and The Sun, in an attempt to manage the fallout that followed what can only be summarised as ‘the great clucking chicken crisis’ in February.
Politically, print publications continue to have the biggest impact. We’ve been in the room when a Secretary of State reviews the morning papers so have first-hand experience of how public opinion and media editorial shape political debate. The Daily Mail is considered the most influential – politicians are terrified of being lambasted in the nation’s second biggest seller. Tim Shipman, political editor of The Sunday Times and a former Mail journalist summed it up nicely: "There isn't a prime minister over the last 30 years who hasn't been looking over their shoulder wondering what Paul Dacre thought of them."
In an increasingly polarised age of ‘good’ vs ‘bad’ and ‘left’ versus ‘right’, we need a plurality of views that challenge and push our thinking. Our self-selected newsfeeds aren’t healthy. We can’t continue to shut out voices, simply because we don’t agree with them. We’re lucky to have such an array of daily opinions and I’m certain that the next few months and years will see more publishers continue to try different business models to ensure that our valued dailies survive. I also expect alternative news sites to continue popping up left, right and centre.
So what does this mean for the PR industry? We already lose out to our marketer colleagues when it comes to measuring tangible impact, and the growing fragmentation of communications channels is unlikely to help this (…I’ll save that topic for another blog post). The cycle of change won’t slow down any time soon. We have to consider the communications mix as a whole and look at every story on a case-by-case basis. We need to make the most of the hundreds of new channels but not forget about the more established, traditional routes to our audiences.
Above all, however, we need to capitalise on and celebrate our most significant skill – our nimbleness. The nature of our world means that we’re ready to stop and start at a moment’s notice, react quickly and instantly decide whether to make the next move or hold off. The media’s recent fragmentation has forced us to hone our nimble minds even further. As a result, we change, adapt and adopt new ways of working to navigate the increasingly fragmented waters successfully. Flexing our nimble muscles means that we will continue to share the stories that we’re employed to tell, regardless of where the media tide turns.
*based on circulation figures for 2017 among national titles, including daily and Sunday titles
**defined as mainstream media sources that are available in print or broadcast format, such as newspapers, magazines, television news and radio news.