PR Wars Podcast: The new PR landscape

Are you ready to tear up your 2020 communication plan yet?  PR Wars talks with corporate communication pro Brad Grantham. We will explore how the pandemic has changed both the media and public relations industries and where do we go from here.

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Announcer
It’s time. Welcome to PR Wars. Coming at you live from Atlanta, Georgia. Now, here is your host, Chris Shigas.

Chris Shigas
Hey everyone, welcome to PR Wars. I’m Chris Shigas.

Are you ready to tear up your 2020 communication plan yet? What do we do now? How do we stop being reactive in this crisis year? And how do we get proactive? Can we even salvage 2020? Today we’re going to look at how the pandemic has changed both the media and public relations. And where do we go next?

Joining me today is a friend. He’s a fellow corporate communications practitioner. I think he has one of the best backgrounds for our profession, because it’s nearly identical to mine. He got his start in local television news, and then he moved into PR agency work and he’s now running external communications for a global corporation, Brad Grantham. Hey Brad, are you holding up in this new environment, you’re set up in your house, you got your home office, you’re fully functional?

Brad Grantham
Fan-tastic there’s nothing like being on a conference call with colleagues and hearing your daughter’s scream in the background at the top of their lungs because the Disney Channel malfunctioned. It’s good times.

Chris Shigas

I was on a conference call this morning and somebody was knocking at the door and the dog was barking and I’m like, somebody’s gonna get that please.

Brad Grantham

All you can do is laugh now, because everybody’s going through the same thing. You know, even if you have the most professional appointment ahead of you. And you think you’ve got all the bases covered. Somebody else in that conference call is gonna have a misstep, and it’s just great.

Chris Shigas

Well, everyone’s trying to adapt. Everyone’s trying to move forward with their campaigns and really look at their plans. But there’s, there’s some serious big changes in our profession. And in the media, the reporters that we pitch to, and in fact, you’ve been kind of looking at some of the latest trends in in the media and it’s not a pretty picture.

Brad Grantham

No, it really isn’t. I mean pointer came out last night. A couple of days ago, a story by Axios. And I think the thing that’s concerning for both of us, as former news, guys, is the amount of layoffs that are occurring across the globe. Axios estimated that through June of this year 11,000 people in newsrooms lost their jobs. To put that in perspective, in 2009, after the recession, or during the recession, there was about 20,000 people that lost their job in 2009. So yeah, it’s it’s quite disturbing you and I both know people who have been impacted by it. It’s not anything that anybody should take joy in, you know, they’re there to help get out the word to the masses. And when you lose good quality people in those sectors, it hurts all of us.

Chris Shigas

Right. And many of the newsrooms were already small, and now they’re smaller.

Brad Grantham

Yeah, basically five to seven different companies that own broadcast newsrooms or newspapers now, across the US, and with that comes a lot of power. And when you go through times like this and you’re losing advertising money, you have to start cutting jobs at some point. It’s just disheartening to, to watch. Again, having worked in those.

Chris Shigas

Yeah. So if you look, the flip side of that, despite the fact that our media lists are getting smaller and smaller, if you do get a placement, perhaps you can even get further reach because there’s more syndication, and your story goes a little farther than maybe it would have when there’s a lot of media.

Brad Grantham

Yeah, that’s a great point. You know, I think, if you’re able, and your organization is able to get into a tier one publication, and the New York Times Wall Street Journal, Reuters, or Associated Press as well, if you’re able to connect with one of those, the ability for syndication or the ability for aggregates to pick up that wire story or data and put it in their own sites, is quite high. You know, something that should not be discounted is the trade publications. We’ve got to make sure that they’re taken care of as well.

Chris Shigas

During this time, the virus has put a lot of people in our profession kind of on our heels being reactive. And I think now people are emerging going, we need to salvage this year, we need to do something proactive. I don’t know what that looks like, if my program was event driven. How am I going to shift to virtual really trying new strategies to see Hey, does this work? The reporters are going through the same thing?

Brad Grantham

Yeah, I think you know, what we’ve pivoted to and some other companies I know. It’s more content related items, whether that’s videos, infographics, what have you instead of doing your traditional press releases or events, because you know, obviously, the events are canceled, you don’t want to put out a press release to seem insensitive, given the current environment and you have to be very clear. I think this is something that’s going to go on for another six months to a year. You know, so it’s not like, we can

Brad Grantham
To say, Alright, let’s just wait till September and see what happens now we’ve still going to be producing content, we still need to be digging for additional content that we can push out later down the year and heads up, here’s a great thing now would be a great time to do research reports and surveys. So if you have some budget that you know, haven’t had taken back, what research could we do that we could push out towards the end of the year or in Q1 of next year, have the time to do it right? And then distributed them.

Chris Shigas
We have this shrinking media list and it’s making me wonder, media relations used to be the 800 pound gorilla of public relations. That’s where you started. That’s where you developed your skills. That was a majority of your job. Now as you look at external communications, perhaps media relations is playing a smaller role than it used to and I look at look at other things. Whether it’s social media content, or it’s a company putting out their own content, whether it’s newsletter, YouTube channel, or maybe looking at influencers outside of the media, like Twitter users or youtubers or podcasters, where do you see the role of media in external comms and kind of moving forward into the future?

Brad Grantham
You know, that’s a, that’s a great question. If I were to tell you right now, what the media landscape is gonna look like five to 10 years from now, I would just throw some dice through the window and just see where it lands because nobody knows. I think it will be diminished quite a bit. I still think the context of the circles that you develop, they’ll still be a strong necessity for that because those people if they’re gone from newsrooms are going to go into content development, or other sectors like that which are becoming more and more important. So for for us in the midst of COVID. You’re not doing press releases every week.

Brad Grantham
You’re not doing events, what can you do? You can do videos, infographics, newsletters, customer stories. There’s a whole gamut of things. And if I were to do something right now, I do a research or a survey at this point, just to make sure that four months down the line, I’ve got the videos, I’ve got all that content ready to go to put it out when the time is appropriate.

Chris Shigas

Absolutely. And I think there’s also opportunity clearly for the cause of journalism and the institution of journalism. This is a bad thing. But as far as communicators go, within a corporation, I think we’ve seen greater importance placed on our positions within the corporate culture, perhaps more seats at the CEO table. I think more and more companies are realizing how navigating this new landscape of Media and Communication you need more professional guidance than ever.

Brad Grantham
It’s it’s an absolute landmine right now. Let’s be frank, you know, seasoned executives are needed now more than ever, the CEOs table, as we progress through this pandemic, I think the needs gonna be even more so closer than ever. We know many companies will be experiencing massive layoffs as we go throughout this year and early next year. And you know, if there was ever a time to have your communicators on board, internal external content development, this is it. It’s time to sharpen and get ready. But yeah, great point.

Chris Shigas

When we look at some of the permanent changes that 2020 is going to have on communication. One of the first things that comes to mind is for me, the role of the workplace office. Do you think there’s there’s really any reason that PR professionals corporate communicators will need to work out of a corporate office with a nine to five commute every day?

Brad Grantham
I love the way that you laughed as you asked that question. Because I think you answered it for everybody. No, there’s no need. I mean, we’ve proven so far, you know, the first four or five months of this pandemic, that we can still do our jobs and do it well. There’s just no need and think about the amount of money that could be saved. If we got rid of all the office spaces just for show,

Chris Shigas
I think that’s an important point, I think companies are going to reevaluate the real estate and look at that and say, Wow, you know, do we need all this expensive real estate? And can we operate in another way? Obviously, if you look at the other side of this, you have maybe some some bosses or leaders who think that productivity will be reduced if people are at home, but wouldn’t you evaluate someone’s productivity, just like if they were at work? I mean, they’re either doing their work or they’re not right.

Brad Grantham
Yeah, it’s they’re either doing the work or they’re not. But I think the the bigger question we have to ask ourselves when we come out of this, again to those leaders is, do you think you will be able to retain staff? If you do not provide a flexible working environment? And the answer is no. Because now that we’ve gone through this, you know, if somebody were to come and say, Look, we’d like you to do X in our company. We’ve got flexible working hours, you can work from home, you know, two or three days a week or all the time. And that’s all there is to it. And, you know, Company B is saying, No, we want you to ask from 830 to 530. It’s a no brainer.

Chris Shigas
You have to commute into Washington DC every day.

Brad Grantham
Yeah. I mean, it’s just it’s so antiquated. So I think we’re going to see a massive change. When we come out of this. You know what it looks like? Nobody knows. It’s kinda like the Wild West. But I think it’s going to be for the better.

Chris Shigas
Well, great any other prognostications that you could see the how this experience of 2020 is going to impact communicators.

Brad Grantham
I think I’ll leave you with a couple thoughts. 2020 has been a cluster on many different fronts. Let’s just be frank. But the good thing is it’s taught us to reevaluate not only our skills but the skills of our colleagues, where we morphing to where are we going from here? What is the best way to deliver content and the story? And the last thing is, I think it’s caused a lot of people reevaluate their crisis plans. Right. So we know as of the taping of this episode, that the unemployment benefits have not been extended at this point. August and September could be really interesting if that doesn’t take place. And you know what other companies are wanting to do layoffs in q3, and q4. You know, what real estate companies and all these different things are gonna be shutting things down. with that comes a need for a crisis team, you know, how are you going to manage that internally, externally, and make sure it’s done succinctly and care. I mean, I think it’s a lot of things a lot of things people aren’t thinking about right now or they’re starting to as they realize, you know, there’s impending doom down the corner. That’s a lovely way to wrap up the podcast.

Chris Shigas
Yeah. Well, if I have to look at at a silver lining here, the communications function is still important to corporate America. I think more and more communicators will be asked to have more specialties. Maybe the days are numbered, where a communicator says, Well, I just write content, or a communicator says, Well, I just pitched Media Relations. I think you’re going to see more generalists. There’s going to be an expectation that, oh, yeah, you need to know social media, and you need to be able to do speech writing, and you need to be able to reach out to tier one and you need to be able to do crisis communications.

Brad Grantham

And you need to do that all all doing a Facebook Live at the same time.

Chris Shigas

There you go. On some level, those people are hard to find. But if you’re a pro and You have a wide variety of skill sets that’s going to serve you well.

Brad Grantham
I agree again, as we morph as an industry as the media, landscape changes, those who have those skill sets will be invaluable.

Chris Shigas
Hey, Brad, thanks for spending time with us today. I really appreciate it and everyone at home remember, every crisis is an opportunity. Is this your moment? Can you make 2020 matter? I think you can. Now go get em’.

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