PR must not become the pickled egg of the media mix 

I hate pickled eggs. Faced with the prospect of one of these rejected horror film props, I would choose literally any other foodstuff on offer. I know there are fans of the pickled egg out there – good for you – but I am confident that I am not alone.

What’s the point of this introduction? I hear you ask. Let’s imagine that the pickled egg is ‘traditional’ print and terrestrial broadcast media. Would you, as the PR industry tasked with swaying public opinion, put the pickled egg on a pedestal, or would you listen to the foodies – in this tortured comparison that’s Ofcom – diversify, and create a smorgasbord of tasty media treats for the public?

The answer is obvious – and yet, far too many of us in this sector still prioritise the media of the 20th century– the hundred-year egg, if you will – above all else. That could be to our detriment, and therefore potentially to that of our clients, so it needs to change. Fast.

An all-you-can-eat media buffet 

Today’s Ofcom report – Media Nations 2023 – is an alarm bell for our industry. It shows beyond doubt what has been clear for some time – that the ‘media diets’ of viewers and listeners in the UK are becoming increasingly fragmented. To quote Yih-Choung Teh from Ofcom, and to explain my strained pickled egg introduction, “today’s viewers and listeners have an ‘all-you-can-eat’ buffet of broadcasting and online content to choose from, and there’s more competition for our attention than ever”.

That’s not to say ‘traditional’ media isn’t still hugely important – a great splash in The Sun, a strong showing on the 6’oclock news or the prime CEO interview in the Sunday Times can still set the weather. It’s just that, in today’s world, those are no longer enough to reach and engage a fragmented nation feasting at an all-you-can-eat buffet – let alone actually change their opinions. The big picture is that, since 2014, news programmes attracting more than four million viewers are down 72% – and we all know what’s happened to print media, with purchases down 70% from 2010 to 2022.

Isn’t this just the London-centric, tech-enabled echo chamber talking through a millennial mouthpiece? Actually, no.

‘Generation Experience’ moves online 

Take broadcasting as one example. Ofcom’s data shows that older viewers are diversifying their viewing – with a 5% increase in over-64s subscribing to Disney+ since 2022, and 43% of over 64s watching Netflix. Broadcasters are also seeing a steep decline in viewing of their scheduled, live programmes like news, as well as the big soaps – including among typically loyal older audiences. No surprise, when 59% of households subscribe to Netflix, according to Ofcom.

But the big brands of media continue to pack a punch with their diversification into digital. Take video-on-demand services. BBC iPlayer now accounts for 18% of the BBC’s total viewing, whilst ITVX – the newer streamer on the block – already accounts for 10% of ITV’s total viewing. Over on the airwaves, radio listening also continues to shift to online, with smart speakers now accounting for a fifth of in-home radio listening – another example of technology and consumer choice combining to disrupt the industry.

Social media – a cliché for a reason

Perhaps the greatest disruption of all has come from social media. It’s a cliché to blithely suggest ‘doing a TikTok to reach Gen Z’, but we all must now realise the power of these social channels. Children and young adults under 25 have collectively decreased their average daily broadcast viewing by 73% since 2012. Instead, they are spending 58 minutes per day on TikTok, 52 on Snapchat, 48 in YouTube and 25 on Instagram. And it’s not just the young, with nearly 1 in 10 TikTokers aged over 50 and #grantok a growing trend.  

Set against this all-you-can eat content buffet, PR can’t allow itself to be the pickled egg of the media mix. Any communications strategy worth its salt needs to think beyond old school earned media – and include owned channels, shared opportunities and yes, paid too – the so-called PESO approach covering Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned.

Even if you’re trying to reach a very specific audience, based on a very specific insight, the reality is that we are all humans with multiple interests reflected in our media consumption.  Whether you’re trying to reach your investors, your colleagues, suburban parents, or retired women in their 60s, nobody just reads the FT or The Sun, or only listens to BBC Radio, or only scrolls through TikTok or Twitter (sorry, ‘X’).

So, the next time you’re planning communications – be that for a trading update, a product launch, a brand-building campaign, or reaching your colleagues – please, don’t be a pickled egg. Think PESO instead.

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