Running out of reporters - what journalism's decline means for PR

In the midst of mass layoffs at Singapore Press Holdings and an increasingly bleak traditional media landscape, it's time for PR professionals to start growing a new skill set.

The PR industry around Singapore let out a collective gasp a few months ago when media giant Singapore Press Holdings laid off 230 employees across the organisation.

While its axe fell across a range of departments, a substantial number of job losses came from the newsrooms. It has already shown a number of long-serving employees from three of Singapore’s major newspapers – The Straits TimesThe Business Times, and Chinese-Language daily Lianhe Zaobao – the door.

My WhatsApp group of industry friends was abuzz for days following the news. “We’ve been asked to hold off on pitching until further notice,” one friend said. “We can’t do media relations because we’re running out of reporters to relate to” joked another.

An industry in decline

The media scene in Singapore is quite like the size of the country itself - small. Extremely small. Most of the nation’s general print and broadcast media are dominated by either one of two major players here – Singapore Press Holdings, or MediaCorp.

The situation is similar for B2B trade media, who use Singapore as a regional content hub across almost every industry imaginable. But thanks to shrinking advertising revenue, we are also beginning to see them go down the same unfortunate path as SPH.

The truth is, deep down inside, we all knew this was a long time coming. It’s part of a global trend. US newspapers employ half the journalists they did 15 years ago, according to figures released by the Bureau of Labour statistics.

New Beats, an ongoing study of journalism redundancies in Australia, estimates that since 2012, 3000 jobs vanished. The one exception is India, which not only boasts the largest number of paid print newspapers in the world, but overall circulation is increasing as well.

Sharp declines in ad revenue and circulation figures in Singapore newspapers meant that layoffs were inevitable, so it wasn’t a matter of if, but when it would happen.

Aside from the obvious cost-savings, the staff cuts are a reflection of the changes to journalism, and as a result PR. Audiences consume content differently thanks to mobile. The sight of commuters reading – and skilfully folding – hardcopy newspapers on the MRT is now almost non-existent. Meanwhile, seeing crowds jostle each other while still keeping their eyes glued to their smartphone screens has become ubiquitous.

The knock-on effects

It’s a stark reminder that disruption spares no country or industry. And in a fast-paced one such as PR, it is unlikely that things will stand still for very long.

While job cuts of this scale are never a good thing, the upside is that there really is no better time to start thinking about more effective ways to communicate to audiences that will stretch a brand’s marketing dollars and deliver true business impact. In addition, it is also an opportunity for PR professionals to grow their skill set.

Rather than bashing out yet another press release that will sit unread in an overworked journalist’s inbox, this disruption is slowly but slowly forcing us to pick up new skills like lead generation and marketing automation.

The media will always play an important role in what we do. But with brands in a position to talk directly to their audience, the nature of the relationship inevitably shifts. Influencer marketing is just one example, here we always consider paid social when putting together a PR plan. It’s a no-brainer when segmenting and targeting our audiences is so easy and accurate.

There is a downside however: you’ll probably have to explain –once again – to your parents and friends what PR is (or isn’t) and what exactly it is you do for a living.

It will be a few months before the dust settles, so we can only wait to see what comes next. Until then, this certainly isn’t the end of PR as we know it. Things will continue evolving, but as long as we embrace change with an open mind, the industry will keep calm and carry on.

Cheryl Tan is the Country Manager for Singapore at Spectrum Group. 


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