As marketers have seen for years, the digital landscape is rapidly shifting – largely driven by algorithmic changes from digital advertising platforms like Google, Facebook, and Bing. While these shifts have been taking place for some time on the advertising side, these changes are matriculating across the line into digital editorial content. Advertisers are moving away from traditional banner ads or ads purchased directly through publications, forcing media outlets to adapt to operate without these revenue streams.
Since the 1990s, when digital news sources first became widespread, print-based readership has dwindled. This shift initially saw a jump in digital ad spending, as brand quickly realized they weren’t getting as much exposure through their print ads. However, more outlets for news meant consumers could choose exactly how they want to consume digital content – and if they want ads to be part of that experience. With the advent of ad-blocking software in 2002, advertisers quickly woke up to the fact that traditional ad spends wouldn’t see the same ROI in the digital age.
Fast forward to today, and we’ve recently seen massive layoffs and overhauls to newsrooms. As these publications have less revenue coming in from ad streams, they’ve had to dial-in back their expenses – including who is on the payroll. In response, some publications like the Washington Post have dialed back the amount of free content that can be read without a subscription, while others have looked to offer non-traditional ad options such as sponsored webinars or editorial content to maintain their revenue.
So what does this mean for journalists?
We can expect to see more freelancers in the mix, as this allows publications to pay on an ad hoc basis instead of having high operational expenses due to a large staff. What this doesn’t mean, however, is less content. Consumers are more media hungry than ever, and are increasingly looking for quick, easily digestible stories. We can expect to see a move away from longer form pieces into a higher volume of concise updates – perhaps even multiple stories on the same topic that could have previously been one long piece.
And while many PR folks aren’t involved in the day-to-day management of digital ads, these changes in digital content also inform our pitching strategy. While feature stories will certainly still be published, pitches that can quickly convey why the topic matters to the reader and 2-3 bullets of key points will likely be most successful, as journalists will be even more strapped for time. Similarly, byline content may take on a larger role as publications look for alternative content streams without having to pay for a writer.
Switching Pitching Strategies
And – while it is always a priority – PR people reaching out to journalists or editors must try and remember the immense pressure they’re under to ramp up content without adding hours to their day. Because reporters will likely have less time to review their inbox for stellar pitches, it becomes essential to develop relationships with these journalists quickly so your name stands out in the onslaught of emails.
Traditionally isolated to the world of advertising, the digital shift is quickly transforming how news is covered and consumed. In order to stay relevant, brands must recognize these changes and quickly adapt both their PR efforts and online content, such as blogs, to fit into this evolving landscape.