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Media Trends and Transitions for 2023 and Beyond

Every year the media landscape evolves, and 2022 was no different. For professional services firms looking to stay in front of key audiences, the shuffle of reporters to different beats, to different (sometimes very different) outlets or out of journalism entirely is a challenge. For companies outside the consumer product space, the competition for coverage has intensified while the need for media visibility has never been greater.

Here are a few of the key changes we’ve seen of late to help you set a strategy for 2023:

Rise of national hub/regional spoke media models

We’re seeing the gutting of “local” news desks and on-the-ground coverage in favor of national coverage models supplemented by regional reporting that is increasingly removed from geography. Business journal newsletters (think the American Cities Business Journals empire) are built on national themes, consistent across markets and supplemented with local stories from the weekly print editions. Online only outlets, like the legal industry trade’s ALM/ network, tend to take a similar approach, building out national coverage by aggregating regional coverage under the banner of a national headline and introductory paragraph.

This dynamic has two key implications for communicators: 1) the rise of super-regional editors covering broad topics and geographies means less connection and devotion to local issues; and 2) ever-thinner reporter ranks are increasingly encouraged to “nationalize” news stories that previously may have been local. This includes aggregating trends (such as workforce reductions) into manufactured trend stories. We’re also increasingly seeing “local” articles on a news network that pull quotes from far away sister titles – meaning the commercial real estate source from California is showing up in a Georgia article, sometimes to the befuddlement of the reader.

Longer news cycles and click chasing

As an agency that occasionally helps out organizations in crisis, this trend can be particularly painful. Rather than suffering through a single bombshell story that fades after 48 – 72 hours, crisis communications clients often face multiple versions of the same or similar stories. Social media engagement can not only extend a story’s shelf-life but give rise to secondary and tertiary angles as popular sentiments are explored by mainstream media outlets. Additionally, reporters and editors are more frequently encouraging tips via social media or anonymous, write-in email accounts. And there’s also the curation and replay of coverage by topic – like “tracking the Silicon Valley’s tech layoffs,” which can resurrect unfavorable coverage, drawing clicks again and again. This is a solid evolution if the coverage of your new office opening or latest hire announcement is wrapped up in a developing trend. It’s less favorable, even painful, when the news is not great.

The reason for this somewhat ad nauseum repetition is likely clicks, presumably driving subscriptions and ad sales.

In addition to layoffs/reductions, return to work and office space themes have been among the seemingly never-dying news cycles. These arguably “soft” topics for some channels were added in to nearly every story. The cycle was initial story, then follow-up, then added to a digest article. Rinse and repeat with any new development added in front of now ancient development, sometimes for weeks on end.

Convergence of policy, regulatory, lobbying in reportage coverage

“We don’t want to talk politics,” is a standard, but no longer really tenable, default. In particular, law, finance and policy are inextricably linked and good insights for, say, an attorney’s or accountant’s client are often found in a policy discussion. A yawning void still exists in much coverage of legislation and proposed policy changes. Professional services thought leaders are compounding the challenges of breaking through in a tough media environment by fearing appearing in “political” reporting. This is a trend that amped up greatly during the Trump administration, but arguably more national news comes from Washington than from New York – a big change from even 10 years ago. There is a way to enter policy discussions without being partisan. And it’s critical that intra/interparty clashes be thought of as totally separate from coverage of an affordable housing bill or a tax break for renewable energy. Professional services voices can join the party (of coverage) without being partisan.

Increasing importance of the corporate/firm newsroom

The contraction and convergence of media outlets has been a trend for more than a decade, and it continues. We’ve seen many once thriving media brands ailing in 2022, from CNN killing CNN+ to the Washington Post ending its venerable Sunday magazine.

For in-house communications teams, fewer reporters means fewer opportunities for coverage. At the same time, the perennial media Achilles heel of the internet has also meant that there are greater opportunities to publish directly and skip the gatekeepers entirely. Professional services companies and firms have started opening up virtual press shops, hiring former reporters and telling their corporate stories directly to readers. Clients are being interviewed and deals chronicled, with the narrative controlled and the depth of coverage dictated by the professional services firm itself.

Firms are missing a prime opportunity to tell their own story if they are not embracing their websites as newsrooms — robust information repositories organized by theme – you know, like a newspaper or magazine, with headlines, regional news items, deeper topical dives, opinions and maybe even a bit of culture or entertainment.

On the plus side, as we embark in 2023, there remain ample opportunities for professional services firms and the smart practitioners within them to engage with the media and be part of coverage – national and local – that resonates with their target audiences. While more and more “low hanging fruit” media opportunities drop away or become paid sections (much to the chagrin of those who measure media “success” by raw clip numbers), firms will do well to focus attention on having a viewpoint that resonates with your specific target audiences and translates nationally.

Traci Stuart and Michael Bond

Blattel News

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