News Outlets Are Rethinking Their Strategy – So Should You

Think about your news consumption over the past 18 months. Were you checking the latest headlines more often at the start of the pandemic or during the 2020 presidential campaign than you are right now? If the answer is yes, you are not alone. Last year was historic for so many reasons that we’re all too familiar with, and in response, a record number of people were anxiously consuming news.  

But in the spring of 2021, the massive news audiences started to leave. Cable news networks are now seeing declines up to 52 percent in viewership compared to last year, and news website traffic has decreased 18 percent compared to summer 2020. 

The big question media organizations are grappling with is how to attract audiences when the fight for people’s attention has never been higher, and news is increasingly consumed on cell phones. That’s why more and more outlets are thinking beyond traditional programming and working to reach news consumers on new platforms. And ultimately, brands who want media attention should think of themselves as being on this journey with our news counterparts.  

So, what does that mean? A mention in Bloomberg or The New York Times will always hold value – but there are additional opportunities that can help brands connect with their target audiences that should not be overlooked. Here are four to keep on your radar.  

Newsletters 

With so many ways to get news, outlets are carving out inbox real estate to reach audiences directly and stay top of mind consistently. The benefit for readers is a curated selection of stories to keep them informed. Currently, The New York Times offers more than 50 different newsletters covering a wide range of topics, and has more than 15 million subscribers. Additionally, global business news platform Quartz says 75% of paying subscribers are driven to read content from newsletters. 

Media are trying to collect the best stories in one place for their time-crunched, voracious readers. Some are offering original content in this format and use separate editorial teams to produce it, so be sure to include those teams in your outreach. If your brand gets mentioned in trade publications but has a harder time claiming space in more general outlets, topical newsletters may offer an opportunity to reach these audiences.  

Journalists themselves are also embracing newsletters, leveraging Substack to reach their readers directly without the help of a traditional media company. The business model is similar to YouTube or Instagram influencers – journalists who have a dedicated following can attract advertisers and ask readers to pay for a monthly subscription to get their content. Substack has grown to more than 500,000 paid subscribers, and Forbes reports that journalists are “making serious money” publishing their newsletters under Substack’s umbrella.   

At the same time, companies like Substack are diminishing the potency of traditional media outlets and increasing the independence of journalists. For niche brands, industry or topic-specific newsletters present an important opportunity to reach a targeted, specific audience that likely cares about your story.  

Direct-to-Consumer News Channels 

The cord-cutting phenomenon shows no sign of slowing, and the effects of Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+ are crossing over into the cable news world. Since only 34 percent of Americans ages 18-29 watch TV through cable service, this is an opportunity to connect with younger audiences.  

Current standalone news channel subscription services include Fox Nation, NBCUniversal’s Peacock – which includes access to MSNBC programming and NBC News Now – and CNN’s soon-to-debut CNN+. These channels will require new content and a lot of energy will be allocated to growing subscriptions. In other words, these platforms will be highly motivated to create compelling content for viewers and eager to fill up programming. While historically Good Morning America or The Today Show have been the gold standard for media hits, now is the time to build earned media strategies that include pitching direct-to-consumer channels.   

In addition to having time to fill and an interest in a variety of stories, we can assume that these subscribers are more actively engaged with the content because they are paying for access to these particular platforms, versus typical cable subscribers who receive a bundled package with hundreds of channels.    

Podcasts & Live Audio 

Large media companies have realized the importance of investing in audio as they look for new platforms to connect with audiences. The listenership for podcasts has grown over the past few years, and news organizations like The New York Times and NPR have been really successful in this space. For example, The Daily, which is produced by The New York Times, attracts millions of weekly downloads for its 20-minute long episodes, and there are plenty of other outlets that are looking to build up their brand through podcasts.   

There’s also a growing interest in live audio, where relative newcomer Clubhouse – an audio-based social networking app – is getting a lot of attention. Clubhouse hosts conversations in virtual rooms where users can listen and join in when there is Q&A. Over the past year, everyone from Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg to Joe Rogan and Lakeith Stanfield have stopped by to join conversations in the app. Companies like Coinbase have effectively used Clubhouse to generate more conversation about topics like cryptocurrency.  

In this new, evolving media landscape brands have to evaluate whether paid or earned opportunities are the best fit for their audiences. Similar to organic and sponsored content in your digital strategy, brands should consider doing both. Many brands are sponsoring or advertising within podcasts or creating paid content in partnership with these outlets.   

It’s also worth mentioning that in addition to apps and podcasts, traditional radio should not be forgotten. Nielsen reports that in 2020, over half of adults got their news from radio sometimes or often. 

Sponsored Events 

Media companies want to reach new audiences with targeted, substantive discussions around tough questions facing the country and the world, and one way they are doing that is with events and conferences. Business plays a role in addressing many issues that matter to Americans, creating opportunities for brands to join forces with news outlets to be a part of these conversations. One example of this is The Wall Street Journal’s Future of Everything Festival, which covers topics ranging from technology to humanity. 

 This format is advantageous for both parties because it’s an additional source of revenue for media companies, and it offers an opportunity for businesses to share how they are contributing to solving large scale social issues. For brands that want the credibility of being associated with a top-tier outlet and can authentically speak to how their company is trying to solve a particular problem, this is definitely an avenue to explore. 

While the thrill of seeing your brand mentioned in The New York Times likely won’t fade any time soon, it’s important for organizations to expand their thinking of what constitutes a successful media hit. Ultimately, news is becoming less about the written word, and companies who want to effectively reach their target audiences need to adapt alongside the changing media landscape.  

Ted Metzger joins Jackson Spalding after nearly two decades of working for some of the world’s most prominent news networks. As part of the JS team, he will lead strategic initiatives for clients in the areas of national earned media, issues management and executive coachingLearn more about Ted here