Securing national business coverage has never been easy. In preparing to talk to a prospective client recently, we thought it would be helpful to explain why it’s gotten tougher — even before you get to the client.
Clients always want to know about relationships with the media but these days, even with a strong knowledge of the media and good relationships with reporters, there are other challenges to consider:
- Shrinking news rooms. Newsrooms have seen dramatic cutbacks and buyouts. Before Feb. 2019, there were more than 1,000 newsroom job cuts in 2019. There is real concern that some newsrooms are ghost newsrooms, with not enough reporters trying to fill up the newshole, and often relying on syndicated content. So it’s harder to find reporters these days.
- Increased demands on reporters. Concurrent with job cutbacks, the demands on reporters to produce and generate views has increased tremendously. Reporters typically have to file more stories, across different formats (you can read a news story on a radio station’s website or watch a video on a print newspaper’s website) all while posting content across social media to drive traffic back to the news organizations’ website. That means reporters have to think harder about whether they’ll even take an interview because of everything else they have to do as part of their jobs.
- Some print outlets have reduced their publication schedule or size of their print editions. Forbes, Fortune, Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur and other prestige publications have reduced the number of issues they publish annually. Fortune used to 25 issues per year; in 2009, Fortune decreased the number of issues to 18. In 2019, it currently publishes 14 issues a year. Forbes published 22 issues in 2010 and current publishes 14 per year. Entrepreneur published 12 issues per year in 2016 but cut back to 10 in 2017 (sorry Feb. & Aug.). Meanwhile, some outlets have reduced their page size so there’s less space per issue for news. (A client recently asked about taking out an ad in the Boston Globe business section and we had to tell them that there’s rarely any advertising in that section.) Fewer issues and smaller space means it’s harder to get ink. There is, of course, still opportunities for online coverage but we still have to deal with fewer reporters with more demands they have to handle.
- Reporters are harder to contact. We’ve already established that reporters are busier than ever, But they’re also harder to reach than ever. There are more freelancers who regularly contribute to a specific news outlet without being an actual employee. That means you can’t reach them by phone through the publication’s main number. There might not only be no number to use to call those reporters, but increasingly some of the newer digital news sites themselves don’t list their phone numbers — other than for advertising. We used to be able to follow up by phone and by smiling and dialing but that’s less possible these days. For a recent client project that targeted advertising/marketing reporters, we found that fewer than half our list included phone numbers; of the ones who had phone numbers listed, 90 percent were the organization’s main number, and the dial-by-name directory did not include the name of the reporter (even if they were staff reporters). By the way, of the 10 percent who did have a phone number we could reach, their voicemails were full and did not take new messages. (This is without pointing out that reporters — across the political spectrum — are as distracted as the rest of us by the Washington, DC news.)
- Tech reporters at national business media are more interested in Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google (aka FAANG of the Big Five), Microsoft and Twitter but not as interested in B2B technology. The products they seem most interested are smartphones, virtual assistants (i.e., Alexa); the issues that interest them are privacy, security, crypto and blockchain but not the underlying business tech that supports those products or issues. We know that cloud computing is hot but that doesn’t mean reporters at national business publications — the Journal, Times, Wired, Bloomberg, etc. — are able to cover a company doing well in cloud computing. The fact is that those reporters are more interested in business issues than in tech issues, and at the same time, it’s hard to sell B2B tech via articles in those publications. (Partly that’s because it can be much more complicated for businesses to adopt new technology, as Walt Mossberg, the legendary Wall St. Journal tech columnist, told me more than once.)