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What recent media layoffs mean for PR agencies

In this episode, Chip and Gini discuss the recent wave of layoffs in the media industry and its implications for PR agencies.

They explore the challenges of securing earned media in a landscape with fewer journalists and offer insights on evolving strategies to effectively reach target audiences through alternative channels.

Emphasizing the importance of setting realistic client expectations and embracing creativity, they highlight the need for agencies to adapt and innovate amidst industry changes.

Key takeaways

  • Chip Griffin: “You need to understand where your client’s audience exists.”
  • Gini Dietrich: “How are you going to pivot the work that you’re doing so that you can still get the earned media in different ways?”
  • Chip Griffin: “The hard part is educating the clients.”
  • Gini Dietrich: “Prospects are saying PR doesn’t work. So it is our job to change that perception and set expectations correctly.”

The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Chip Griffin: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: And I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin: And Gini, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s a lot of members of the media who are getting laid off.

Gini Dietrich: I have noticed. It’s not good.

Chip Griffin: It is not good. We’ll talk more about that right after this.

That was kind of a boring intro. I didn’t, I didn’t even, I feel like I didn’t put any effort into it at all.

Gini Dietrich: I always wait, I held my breath to see what you come up with. It’s great.

Chip Griffin: You held your breath hoping that, well, I mean, the good news is this isn’t live. So, you know, it won’t be career ending for either of us, even if I go crazy, cause we just won’t publish it.

So, right. So there’s really no need to hold your breath. If it was live, then I’d be holding my breath because since I make it up on the fly, you just never know what might come out of my mouth.

Gini Dietrich: You never know.

Chip Griffin: You never know. It’s true. But it, it does seem like, you know, just, you know, reading the media coverage these days, there’s a lot of members of the media who are finding themselves out of work, whether it’s the LA Times, the Wall Street Journal, Tech Crunch, you know, so it’s not just old school media Sports Illustrated. Yeah. I mean, just, almost across the board, real problems for traditional quote unquote mainstream media.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. I mean, I did the math the other day just because I was curious and it’s close to a thousand people who have been laid off, who were laid off.

Journalists were laid off in January, which is not insignificant. And when you have an agency that focuses on media relations, it’s gonna be a little challenging coming this year. A little bit, you know, you don’t, we’re already having challenges with getting responses from journalists and now there’s significantly less.

I mean, it’s probably 20 to 25 percent less journalists than there were at the beginning of 2024.

Chip Griffin: Right. And, and, you know, a lot of listeners are running PR agencies. Many of them have a particular focus on media relations. And so as, as you’re looking at this as a business owner, you have to say to yourself, you know, what, what, what does this mean for me?

How is this, I mean, yes, obviously, you know, we feel bad for all of our friends in the media who may have lost their jobs or worried about their jobs, but really, we also have to focus on our own businesses and say, yeah, what does this portend for us? How do we need to evolve to adjust to this reality?

What does the future look like?

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, there’s some, there’s a few things I think that are happening. one is that we have to think about earned media from a different perspective. And for so long. You know, we’ve treated PR is just media relations, or in some cases, maybe it’s the backbone of what we do.

But we’ve, we’ve always bucketed it into, you know, trade and consumer and business publications. And typically, we don’t look outside of that. Now, in some cases we’ve added some influencer marketing in, right? So, we’ve got some of that in there, which is both paid and earned. but that’s as far as I think most communicators and most agency owners have stretched the earned media piece of what we do. And what I like to challenge everyone to think about is there are other pieces to it, right? I mean, we were talking about before we, we started the show, but you, there’s YouTubers there and maybe you, maybe they’re not somebody that you’re super excited about, but they have a large following and have people who listen to them.

There are bloggers, there are people who have really popular sub stack newsletters, there are review sites. Like there’s a, an opportunity here for us to think about our media in different ways. Not just I got to get in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal.

Chip Griffin: I’m disappointed. You left out TikTokkers in that.

I mean, I spend half my day on TikTok. No, I don’t.

Gini Dietrich: No you do not. Do you even have TikTok?

Chip Griffin: I created an account at some point. I can’t say that I ever log into it. Occasionally someone will share a, a TikTok somewhere off of the platform. And then I click on it and it tries to get me to log in. And I’m like, I can’t figure this out.

It doesn’t matter.

Gini Dietrich: Continue as guest, continue as guest.

Chip Griffin: Move on with my life. Yep. But if, but I mean, the reality is that you need to understand where your audience, where your client’s audience exists. And if they’re not reading the Wall Street Journal because the Wall Street Journal isn’t putting out as much content because they don’t have as many journals and all that, those people are still getting information from somewhere.

Gini Dietrich: Correct. That’s correct.

Chip Griffin: And so it’s your job as an agency to help your clients figure out where they are getting their information from, their news from, their reviews from. And you need to go there. And it may well not be where you as an agency owner are used to going yourself or enjoy going, right? I mean, if I’m advising a client and TikTok is the place to be, I’m going to have to suck it up and actually log into TikTok on a regular basis and, and, and get to know it more.

Fortunately, in my current role of advising agency owners, most agency owners are not getting information on how to run their business on TikTok. So.

Gini Dietrich: Yet.

Chip Griffin: Yet. Every so often someone comes along and tells me that, that that’s where people should go. But then I ask my clients and prospects and they’re like, no, we don’t, we might be on TikTok for amusement or to see, you know, what our kids are up to, but not not to find out, you know, how do you maximize the profitability of your agency?

Gini Dietrich: No, that’s not where they’re going to TikTok?

Chip Griffin: It turns out most agency owners are not going there for that. But as you point out, that’s today. A year, two years, five years from now, that may not be the case. And so, you know, we do have to reset our expectations and, and remember that a lot of our clients do have audiences that exist in other places. And as you point out, it’s still earned media. As long as you’re not, as long as cash isn’t changing hands, if I’m just trying to convince a TikToker to take a look at my product or talk about my issue, then that’s still learned media.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, absolutely. Yes. it’s funny because of an industry friend of mine who actually retired a couple of years ago to ride his bike full time, which is really not fair, but he sent me over the weekend, he sent me an article and his, his email said, you’re going to love this article until the halfway point when I predict you’ll hate it.

And so I open it and I’m reading this and it’s a sub stack newsletter and I, and you have to pay to participate. Right. And I’m reading it and it’s talking about bike racing and, you know, how things have, have changed. And there used to be live coverage and now there’s no longer live coverage. And, and you get to that point where he’s like, and now there’s no longer live coverage.

And so there’s no more live racing and we don’t know what to do about it, which makes the PESO model obsolete. And I was like, what? Literally.

Chip Griffin: Okay.

Gini Dietrich: And so I, I kept reading it and, and his point was that when you have a large piece of earned media, live racing, live coverage that goes away, that a quarter of the PESO model no longer works. And so as you can imagine, I am creating my response for that, but the point is that it doesn’t have anything to do with something going away.

It has everything to do with how you’re going to use it to pivot and to evolve and to tweak what you’re doing. So yes, we’ve had hundreds of journalists who have been laid off in the last five weeks. How are you going to pivot the work that you’re doing so that you can still get the earned media? But in different ways. And like, to your point, you know, it might be on LinkedIn.

It might be a LinkedIn newsletter that somebody has a really, maybe it’s Martin Waxman who has a hundred thousand subscribers on LinkedIn, or maybe, you know, it’s people like that who you’re still earning the, the credibility. And that’s what it is. It’s, it’s earning the credibility from somebody who has a large following. Or maybe not, maybe not even a large following, but has a following of people who…

Chip Griffin: you want to reach.

That you want to reach.

Gini Dietrich: Right? And they, and they have that following and it’s, you know, an engaged following. So it’s about earning the credibility with those kinds of people. And it doesn’t always have to be Tech Crunch and the New York Times and Wall Street Journal and Sports Illustrated and whatever happens to be.

Chip Griffin: Right.

And it’s increasingly less likely that you will be able to, because if there’s fewer journalists for a period of time, those journalists who remain will continue to be just bombarded by more pitches. Because so many communicators agencies and otherwise, some, for some reason, think that the just the best way to get there is by, you know, using some of these list services and just blasting away. And I, I really, I just simply do not understand that mindset.

I mean, I, I have to think that many agency owners end up seeing the same kind of stupid. You know, sales pitches and other things in their inbox. That’s what journalists are getting just times 10. As a podcaster I get a ton of this stuff. It’s rubbish, rubbish. It’s clear that someone’s just using a list that they bought from somewhere that they haven’t curated in any way.

Correct. Don’t personalize the pitch at all. If you are doing that, you should have stopped a long time ago. But now read about these layoffs and say, you know what, maybe I’m not just going to you know, blast away with as many of these emails as I can, and I’m going to start building actual relationships with people who I think might actually write about me.

And I’m not just deluding myself into that. I, I, I believe it because. You can, you can make a case for why, based on looking at what they’ve done, that they’re likely to do it again. Not just because they should. Or because they ought to care or whatever. None of that stuff matters.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, and it’s not hard to do this, right?

Like, one of the things that I teach in the PESO Model Certification course is how to build your media list that’s really specific to what you’re trying to do. So, in the first module, we talk about owned media and how to create content that’s valuable to your clients or your executives. It’s available to all communicators, not just agencies.

So whatever you, whatever you’re doing, it’s applicable to the work that you’re doing. So let’s take media relations as an example. If I go to Google and I type in media relations, I have pages and pages and pages of stuff that comes up, right? And it’s everything from YouTube and other social media.

It’s Reddit, it’s LinkedIn, it’s blogs, it’s, trade publications and it’s business publications. So now I have a really nice, big grasp of who’s covering media relations at this moment in time. And I can start to target based on that. So it’s really about how do you target what’s best for the client and the client work that you’re doing versus, Oh, my gosh, I’m trying to get, I have to get five stories in business publications this month.

And so I’m just gonna to your point go in and slam it out, out there to as many as I can.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. I think you’re right that it’s, it’s not, it’s not difficult or not hard for agencies to actually pivot and do this work in this different way. I think the hard part is, or the perceived hard part is explaining it to clients and educating the clients, right?

Gini Dietrich: Yes, I would agree with that.

Chip Griffin: Because you have the clients come to you and they want to be in the Wall Street Journal and Tech Crunch. And most agencies do a very poor job resetting their client’s expectations and doing the education that’s necessary to say, Hey, look, there’s just not as many opportunities there. And that’s not where your audience really is right now anyway.

Right. And so, so those are, you know, those are good for you know, burnishing your ego or making the organization feel good because the logo is out there or something like that, but it doesn’t move the needle with the actual business objectives that you have anymore. And you will move it more if you’re focused on these other things.

And the other piece of the education is that a lot of this non traditional media functions very differently. They don’t have established editorial calendars, so you don’t get to, it’s, it is tougher because you can’t go to the client and say, you know, this is, you know, they’re targeting this for their Sunday publication or their Sunday edition, or, you know, their, you know, whatever industry focus they have in March or something like that.

Because most of these non traditional folks are producing as and when they can, you know, maybe they’ve got a loose schedule for publishing their written or video content, but, but you have to be willing to go with the flow a little bit more. And it’s a lot less, one of these things where you can just, you know, put it down and say, you know, I know that this is the kind of thing that the journal will cover in their Friday tech column or whatever. You’re going to have to just, but you need to educate your clients on that.

And if you, if you don’t educate your clients on it, they’re just going to be disappointed because you’re not going to be able to do what they want. And so you’re better off telling them at the prospect stage or when they’re a client and you’re putting together a plan. Hey, this is what is possible today.

And this is why it will make a difference for you. If instead you just say, yes, I’ll just do whatever you want or absolutely we’ll, you know, we’ll keep pitching the Wall Street Journal and LA Times and all these people who have fewer journalists, you’re not getting anywhere.

Gini Dietrich: No, you’re not. No, you’re not.

And, and you’re also doing your clients a big disservice. And I think to your point, one of the challenges, biggest challenges we have is we’re not so great at communicating that kind of stuff. You know, we’re communicators, but we’re not super great at that. And it’s really about, I think part of it is because we’re people pleasers, generally. And so we don’t want to say, well, well, hang on a second. But part of the reason you have been hired is because you have an expertise and you are in this every single day. Like your clients really believe that what you do every day is you just pick up the phone and you go, Hey, Chip. So we have this client and they’re really good at this.

And I was wondering if you’d cover it. And Chip goes, yeah, sounds great. That’s what they believe we do all day. It’s not what we do all day. But we’re really bad at delivering that kind of information. And we don’t set expectations correctly. So, they have to understand that if they want to reach certain goals, and I understand, I have clients this way too, that some of them are ego driven and they want to, you know, be in the Wall Street Journal because their buddy next door was, or the guy that they golf with is, whatever happens to be, some of it is.

Your job is to set expectations and say, if our goal is to do this, we have to do this, this, and this to get there. And it may or may not include the Wall Street Journal.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. And look, I’m not saying that nobody should ever target being in the Wall Street Journal because the Wall Street Journal is going to be around for a long time, no matter how many layoffs they may have.

They’re not, I don’t have any, any notion that the Wall Street Journal is going to just up and disappear, but they’re going to be covering fewer things. That’s right. They’re going to be doing less original reporting, and so therefore you need to figure out, am I crossing that new threshold that I’m going to have to, that bar I’m going to have to clear in order to get coverage?

If so, fine, continue to pursue it. But if the reality is you’re not, you’re better off investing that time and your client’s money into something else. And the sooner you recognize that, and the sooner you can help your client understand that, The better off you will be. And I think part of the problem is that, that agencies are people pleasers, as you say, most of the workers inside of, but, but it’s also fear, right?

As, as an employee of an agency, I don’t want to lose my job. And so I’m not gonna, I’m not gonna upset the apple cart and I’m going to tell the client what they want to hear. As an owner, I want to win that new piece of business. I want to keep that business. And so. You know, the least friction I can create is in my mind the way that I am able to accomplish that.

The problem is it’s very short sighted because if you can’t actually do what the client wants you to do, yes, you may take some money in the short term, but you are going to take a hit at some point when they realize, you know, you still haven’t gotten me in the Wall Street Journal . And then they’re going to pull the contract and they’re going to go badmouth you to all their friends.

Gini Dietrich: And not only that, but how many, I’ve had so many conversations like this, and I bet that listeners have too, where a prospect, you’re talking to a prospect and they say, well, we’ve hired PR in the past, but they haven’t gotten us, they didn’t get us any results. Or we spent, you know, $5,000 a month and we got like two blog posts or we spent $25,000 a month and didn’t get anything.

Like I hear that all of the time, all the time. And across the board, prospects are saying PR doesn’t work. I know I need it. I’ve been told I need it. So I’m talking to you, but I don’t believe it works. And so we’re already up against this perception. And then we don’t do anything to change it. So it is our job to change that perception and set expectations correctly.

Chip Griffin: Right. And look, I mean, the reality is you’re going to lose contracts over this, right? You, you will fail to win business because you will have a prospect who just absolutely believes they’re going to be in the Wall Street Journal . Okay. Well, you know, go find another agency that’s willing to do that. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that. I will tell you that, you know, we will keep it on our list.

And if we find an opportunity where we can do it, absolutely. Yep. But the reality is a lot of clients come in with expectations that are not reasonable. And frankly aren’t even good for their business. And so if you can help them to understand, well, first of all, you need to understand what their actual business objective is. Because most of us don’t do that. We just listen to the client. You know, I want to get in the Wall Street Journal . I want to get in Fortune. I want to do these things. Okay, cool. Tick, tick, tick. Yep. Those, that’s what we’re gonna put in the proposal. We’ll send it right back to you. I mean, some of the worst advice that, that sales trainings will give you is repeat back to the client, the prospect, what they asked for to show you understood.

Okay. But only if that’s a good idea, right? If it’s not a good idea, tell them what is a good idea.

Because we are not salespeople. We don’t want to be salespeople. We shouldn’t be salespeople. Our goal is not to close at all costs. If you are a sales rep and you’re selling Ferraris, your goal is to sell as many damn Ferraris as you can. And it doesn’t really matter whether the buyer knows how to use a stick shift or, you know, is in a winter climate and never going to be able to drive the Ferrari or whatever, right?

It doesn’t matter to you.

Gini Dietrich: Love it.

Chip Griffin: Because you’ve sold it and you’re done. Right. In an agency, you’re building a relationship. You’re going to be continuing on with these folks. So you don’t want to just tell them whatever they want to hear so that they buy. You want to tell them this is the approach that makes sense.

This is what we can do. This is how it will help you. This is what it’s going to cost. If you do those things, you will have successful relationships. But these days it requires a lot more creative thinking. It is not just, you know, we’ve got, we’ve got all the journalist connections in this sector. And so therefore we’re the people to hire .

It takes a lot more work than that to be successful as an agency in 2024.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. And I think it has been challenging for the last several years. Probably since the pandemic, because newsrooms were already lean. And now it’s going to become even more challenging because they’re more than lean. Right. I mean, you’re going to have journalists who are supposed to be writing six or seven beats and they just don’t have time.

They don’t have time to answer email. They don’t even have time to look at their email. So the fact that you’re sending an email and like you, I get tons of pitches where I’m just like. This is crap. And then you get the, the follow up, and the follow up, and the follow up, and then they get aggressive after the like fourth or fifth time you haven’t responded to them, and they’re like, why aren’t you responding to me?

Are you stuck? Are you trapped under something? Like, just respond and tell me no. No, because if I respond to every single person who emails me, that’s all I will do is respond to emails. I’m not a journalist. I’m not at the New York Times or the LA Times. So imagine that on steroids. They don’t have time.

So you have to find new and creative ways to get earned media. It’s still out there.

Chip Griffin: Yeah, and this is not, we’ve talked a lot about the Wall Street Journal . This is, I mean, this is much more widespread than that. These are the ones that get the attention. Yeah, but every trade publication, every local newspaper.

I mean, I, I think some listeners know I do some photography for the local newspaper. It’s free, by the way, because they don’t pay freelancers and haven’t in many years. But, but the entire, this is the newspaper for the state capital here in New Hampshire. They have a single photographer for the entire newspaper, for everything.

Sports, features, news, everything. They have one sports reporter. They have one news reporter. This, I mean, this is, this is not unusual. You will see this in a lot of places where the staffs have been cut way back.

Gini Dietrich: It’s going to get more challenging. So put on your creative hat, creative hats, and find ways to get earned media.

You can do it. It’s out there. There are lots of different ways to do it, but the traditional method that we know is, is gone. And I don’t want to say dead because you’ll still get some of it, but not, it won’t be nearly as easy as it has been in years past.

Chip Griffin: Well, you know, the other thing that’s gone… this episode. We are, we are, we’ve concluded this episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast.

I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin: And it depends.

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The Hosts

Chip Griffin is the founder of the Small Agency Growth Alliance (SAGA) where he helps PR & marketing agency owners build the businesses that they want to own. He brings more than two decades of experience as an agency executive and entrepreneur to share the wisdom of his success and lessons of his failures. Follow him on Twitter at @ChipGriffin.

 

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, the lead blogger at Spin Sucks, and the host of Spin Sucks the podcast. She also is co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Follow her on Twitter at @GiniDietrich.

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