The Changing Media Landscape: What It Means to Public Relations

Tressa Robbins, Vice President-Media Contacts, BurrellesLuce

Recently, I spoke at two PRSSA regional conferences about how the evolution of digital and social media is changing the media landscape. In particular, the discussion revolved around how news is now immediate and information can get lost in the shuffle and, perhaps more importantly, how this all affects our role in PR. I wanted to share some of what we discussed with you. 

According to The Pew Research Center and the Project for Excellence in Journalism (Pew PEJ), the Internet surpassed newspapers and radio as a primary news source back in 2010. In fact, the explosion of online content (via blogs, social networks, new online-only media outlets, video portals and other venues) is coming not just from traditional media companies, but individuals and organizations from every walk of life. It’s a development that invites an entirely new way of thinking about how companies can get out their message and amplify their brand.

We keep hearing “Chicken Littles” spouting that big media is dead or that social media will soon replace traditional media. Poppycock, I say! On the contrary, “old” media still provides most of our news! The percentage of original content found on social media pales in comparison to traditional media. The Pew PEJ studied one typical American city (Baltimore), and reported that a whopping 92 percent of new content came from “old” media, proving that the published story is just the beginning of its life cycle.

There seems to be no shortage of those that believe the press release is dead. I’m in the opposing camp, as I believe it continues to be a useful tool for public relations practitioners. Don’t get me wrong, every circumstance is unique and not all situations will warrant release to the media, but the press release is still an integral part of the PR toolkit. Actually, social media has created more — and more effective — channels for companies and brands to communicate. Regardless, the press release will always have a place in your online newsroom. I’ve heard both Sally Falkow and Steve Momorella say it well—don’t underestimate the power of that news release, it has great SEO value.

So what does all this mean in terms of media relations? Considering that 98 percent of journalists say they start a story with a Google search (per the Pew PEJ State of the Media 2011 report), it means your news needs to be optimized for search engines. Make it easy to find as well as easy to access. In other words, don’t make journalists register to get into your newsroom. Instead, include embed codes for video and images, publish text as text (versus as images where it’s difficult for a journalist to copy and paste from), include links to all your social media accounts, and make your news available in a feed so they can follow if they’d like and get your news pushed to them.

We also discussed digital storytelling as a key core aptitude for public relations and marketing professionals. We frequently hear that good writing skills are the single most important attribute for a PR pro, and that’s true, but storytelling is a very close second. Some things to keep in mind when telling your story is that more is not always better. Be sure you’re speaking your audience’s language. In this multimedia environment, text is not always enough. Engage their senses—use images, podcasts, videos to amp up the virtual volume. PR professionals must adapt to the “new” journalism, more as a service rather than a product that is platform or format specific. 

I think John Steinbeck said it best in East of Eden, “If a story is not about the hearer he will not listen. And here I make a rule—a great and interesting story is about everyone or it will not last.” Read that again. It’s so true!  

Another wise person, my colleague Johna Burke, says, “Remember Captain Sully (the US Airways captain who emergency landed in the Hudson River saving hundreds of lives)? Every organization has these people and stories, your job is to find them and leverage them.”

What techniques are you using to find and leverage your story makers? How has your role in PR and communications evolved along with the media?


Tressa Robbins brought 15 years of diversified business, communications, and public relations experience to the company when she joined BurrellesLuce in 1998. In the dozen years since, she has applied her extensive marketing and sales know-how to reinforcing BurrellesLuce’s coveted position among PR professionals. Robbins currently serves as vice president-Media Contacts, overseeing sales, client services and social media for BurrellesLuce’s popular digital database. She currently serves a board member for the St. Louis Chapter of Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). She also mentors students involved in Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) and serves as professional advisor for the Southeast Missouri State University PRSSA chapter. In addition, she is a frequent—and widely followed—commentator on media relations and social media for Fresh Ideas, the BurrellesLuce blog, and is a guest contributor to PRSA’s blog, comPRehension.

Connect with me on Twitter @tressalynne



  1. Shankar on May 14, 2012 at 5:08 am

    Interesting observation and points to ponder for PR practitioners. Even as digital media is offering another tool for journalists, traditional media and their verification of sources before writing a report is here to stay. I am writing a paper – Social Media, Journalists, PR Professionals – Trust or Distrust, for 21st annual AMIC conference in Malaysia to be presented in July 2012 and my research paper is throwing this issue very well in the Indian context. Yes, social media is important, evolving but issues of credibility, trust of person hosting information is critical but surely, it helps reach larger audiences, helps in engaging audiences and emerging as another point of information exchange. Whether reporters are from business, city, wire agency or TV – use of social media is still small but growing and both technology and organisation support to leverage social media is a key determinant in allowing social media as a differentiator in putting news out.

  2. Rob Doughty on May 14, 2012 at 11:44 am

    Good article Tressa.

    I actually the press release has become more important and more powerful than ever, especially with online media. The beauty of the press release is that it says exactly what you want to say with no editing. Many online sites today post full unedited press releases simply because they lack the staff to edit or write something different. Online media is a boon to us all because it increases distribution of our exact message. We should be happy!

  3. Douglas Brinker on May 16, 2012 at 12:07 am

    I totally agree with what Thresa mentioned in this article. if you leave someone out of the storytelling atmosphere the end result may not have the impact as what you have desired.I am a Communications Grad Student at Eastern Michigan University looking to gain much more in the PR field.