Last week Starbucks posted an opening for a photojournalist to join the company’s news team. Journalists switching to PR is nothing new. Journalists switching to “journalism” is.
Journalists have been recruited to the PR dark side since the 1800s. But we’ve entered the corporate publishing era, where corporate content marketing achieves what only PR could do previously and the line between journalism and PR nearly disappears.
Microsoft hired KOMO TV’s Lou Gellos. Amazon hired former White House press secretary Jay Carney. There are tens of thousands of corrupted journalists working for or inside corporations including me. For 150 years PR people helped shape and deliver the message through honest editors at real publications.
But the editors and publications are disappearing. Consumers get their “news” from Facebook and business customers supplement diminishing trade publications with free white papers, case studies and content from vendors’ sites.
Content marketing will grow to $300 billion in 2019 at a rate of 13% per year. That’s two orders of magnitude larger than the PR industry and it is growing twice as fast.
But don’t count out PR yet. Raise your hand if you’d like a story about your company in the New York Times. Fortunately the Times still makes a profit, albeit very small. And gets 80 million uniques per day. The Washington Post’s new model seems to be working and critical trade journos are trying super efficient formats like The Platform and TheNewStack.io.
As long as there are high quality news outlets and companies that want coverage there will be PR. PR provides an editorial imprimatur that no amount of content marketing can match. Everyone knows why you think you’re great. But they will believe a published reporter who says so.
We see the larger trend. In the past four years more than half of our work has shifted from PR to content marketing. But we also see limits to the trend. Not only is there consistent demand for publication in the New York Times, for example, there is rising push back on content marketing.
Crap content, even if it’s free, doesn’t succeed. Content marketing is kind of like reality TV in the 2000s. Hollywood writers once lamented the death of scripted shows like Law and Order that were replaced by Survivor and American Idol. But after a decade of reality TV and cat videos, viewers happily subscribed to Netflix to watch Mad Men, and a new era in scripted TV was born.
I don’t know when a new era of journalism will be born. But I know it’s coming. Just like the writers who never saw Netflix as the savior it turned out to be. Journalism’s savior might be antipathy to content marketing. Until then, journos will continue doing corporate journalism.