Newspaper sales have dropped during the Covid-19 crisis. Pic: nightowl/Pixabay

The Covid-19 pandemic has provided plenty of stories for print media. But it’s been bad news for them in terms of sales of print editions and advertising since the start of the UK lockdown.

The number of people buying print editions while shopping or making other essential trips outside has dipped.

How much has varied title-by-title – those with a much older, loyal demographic have seen sales dip by 12%, while those with younger readerships who also get a lot of their news from digital and broadcast media have seen sales drop by up to 38% in the case if the i newspaper (Metro, the FT and the Evening Standard have bigger drops, but they’re outliers as they rely heavily on commuters who have been mostly at home and bulk sales).

The rush to offer print readers who wouldn’t leave home – shielding, weren’t prepared to or looking after vulnerable relatives – free digital editions of the print title for typically 12 weeks will also have cannabalised print sales and replaced print ad revenue with cheaper digital ad sales. That exchange of print pounds for digital pennies has forced many titles to later attempt to bolster print sales by offering free delivery.

Good news

The good news for businesses and organisations who want to use PR to increase brand awareness, communicate with key stakeholders and all the other benefits of public relations, is this plunge is not the end of PR. Here’s why:

  1. It’s an outlier – the Covid-19 lockdown is one of those ‘black swan’ events you can’t predict and which happen very rarely. Most print buyers lost through remaining at home will probably return after lockdown is eased enough for them to buy print titles as they did before. [UPDATE: JPI Media reports some doing so already. ABC independent audited figures for May show the start of a return ] That said, print editions of newspaper and consumer magazines are in long-term decline for demographic and lifestyle reasons. Niche titles in print, such as Private Eye and The Economist, will survive for some time yet because of the unique content and reputation they provide and enjoy as well as the unique qualities of reading a print product e.g. read anywhere, not wifi or battery required.
  2. Most readers have stayed loyal by buying or delivery – Even a drop of 38% stuck-at-home readers can also be seen as a retention of 62% or print sales. It’ll be interesting to see after lockdown has fully eased which have enjoyed greatest reader loyalty – that will be a predictor of which will hold print sales longest as print sales decline generally.
  3. Readership is many times that of the sales number – readership is what you should care about – how many people see your story, rather than how many copies were bought. The difference is because each newspapers is, on average, read by three people. Which is why the regular independently-produced readership numbers published by PAMCO are many times those of the circulation for each title. See the latest ones for national titles here.
  4. Print reach is still at a useful scale and penetration for many groups – whether your target audience is parents of school-age children in Scotland or CEOs of Scottish companies, if you get expert help in targeting the right print publications, you can still achieve useful reach for your messages to most stakeholder groups in addition to your other comms and marketing channels, whether paid, owned, earned or shared. Print also enjoys greater reader involvement, so those reached will be well engaged if your story is written properly and therefore more likely to engage with your brand if the messaging is well-targeted.
  5. Millennials and Generation Z love analogue – essentially, because these two generations have grown up with digital channels, they’re seen by them as ‘ordinary’ and less favoured than print, whose experiential quality they enjoy – I know a 23-year-old who uses a paper diary rather than an online calendar to run her life. Print also allows them to briefly escape the monsoon of notifications in the ‘attention economy’ of their life.
  6. Some print readers will have switched to the digital or online version of the same print brand – whether because they couldn’t or wouldn’t leave their home to buy a paper, or because the free trial of the digital edition would save them money at a time of financial uncertainty. [UPDATE: JPI Media has reported big increases. Many other titles say their online audience grew] The key point is they will still have been reachable by your messages via a different platform of the same media brand. Some will return to the print version when they can, others will remain on the digital platform. Either way, you’ll still have access to them.
  7. The media world is more than print – that’s been the case since the World Wide Web first started hosting news stories. Very few titles don’t have digital platforms for their brands, whether it’s just a website or social media pages, email and online events.
  8. Most news is read on-screen already anywayOfcom reports that by 2019 newspapers were used as a source of news by 38% of the UK population, compared to 66% using the Internet. Already a large percentage of the potential reach I achieve for clients is via the web and social channels of media who run the story – between 50 and 80% depending on the client, target media used and their digital reach.
  9. Media relations is about human beings communicating – so which output channel the media use to connect with their audiences isn’t important – it’s that engagement which matters, whether it’s in print, the Web, social, broadcast, podcasts, video or voice-driven devices.
  10. PR is more than media relations – although PR is till most associated with sending a press release to a print title, PR has for many decades also used other very effective and cost-effective tools to achieve client goals by influencing key audiences – from stakeholder management and engagement to competitions, sponsorship, speaking opportunities, lobbying, events and social media.

Why you need a PR pro to get the most out of PR

You can learn how to write a press release and email it to the local Press in Business Gateway workshops. But getting good media coverage there or wider involves a lot more than that.

Here are some of the reasons to hire an Accredited PR Practitioner who’s a Member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), as I am:

  1. They know how to plan a PR campaign to meet your business objectives, not just get your story in the media, using a variety of tools
  2. They know which media will be interested in your story and how and when to contact them
  3. They will probably already have a positive professional relationship with your target media
  4. They will know when to send to each outlet to meet their deadlines
  5. They will know how to write a media release to best frame your story
  6. They will know what supporting materials to provide
  7. They will have long experience of how best to send your story
  8. They will be able to capture all your coverage and give you the number of people reached and any other business goals you’ve agreed
  9. They will be able help you use media coverage to amplify your reach via your own digital channels
  10. They will know which paid channels are right for you to invest in
  11. They will know which organisations will share your social posts
  12. They will know how to plan for an execute a professional stakeholder management campaign – to ensure your most important groups feel about you the way you want them to
  13. They will know how to influence your key stakeholders and public bodies
  14. They will know how to help you create and run effective events to meet your business goals
  15. They will know how to get you a speaking slot at events where your target customers are the audience – positioning you as the top expert in your field and the person to go
  16. They will know whether and how you can use competitions
  17. They will know how to use sponsorship and other paid activities in your multi-channel campaign

Want to know more? Email me to arrange a chat about your needs.

See the results I’ve got for my clients.