On a recent trip to New York, I took the opportunity to attend a digital publishing summit that brought together key digital players including The Huffington Post, The Onion, Buzzfeed and others to discuss trends in publishing. I was interested to learn more about how the media landscape is changing as a result of digital.
Changing reader habits, geared towards a preference for consuming media online and through devices, have led to the decline of print and a subsequent decline in revenue for media outlets. Unsurprisingly, the number one issue up for discussion at the conference was revenue models, most predominately native advertising.
Is the wall between editorial and advertising coming down?
Many critics suggest that native advertising has led to one of the most significant shifts of our times, the gradual breakdown of the wall that used to exist between editorial and advertising. Editorial has never stood completely independent (after all we have a whole industry, public relations, which has given interest groups a platform through editorial), the line has certainly begun to blur.
On the other hand, one could also argue that native advertising leads to more transparency about corporate interests, unlike public relations where corporate interests are buried in editorial. Critics could argue that indeed the wall remains intact.
What does this mean for public relations practitioners?
In any event, native advertising is already sending earned media opportunities into decline. We’re already seeing fewer opportunities to secure media coverage for clients through traditional means—pitching for interviews, guest blogging, op eds, media releases etc.—without paying for it.
What does this mean for today’s public relations practitioner? Practitioners must be well versed in digital, social, content and paid media. Borrowing the tactics of other disciplines is now the norm. This doesn’t mean, however, that public relations doesn’t have its place.
Ultimately, public relations brings to the table a crucial focus on understanding target audience and crafting messages and content which cuts through with that audience. This is also paramount for a sound content, digital or social strategy. Public relations also understands the unique role of a brand’s reputation and credibility, which goes beyond simply building brand awareness.
Native advertising won’t mean the end of public relations, but it will mean that public relations will start to look very different.