When it comes to who influences consumer choices, mainstream journalists surprisingly rank among the top three most impactful influencer groups. 53 percent of senior communications leaders placed the value of a journalist’s endorsement behind that of everyday consumers and ahead of brand advocacy by celebrity spokespeople. While celebrity and influencer marketing is gaining increasing popularity on social media (people are fond of recommendations from those they admire), the perception that paid spokespeople lacks authenticity limits their reach. Consumers place most of their trust in their peers and those they deem authentic, with mainstream journalists figuring prominently. Journalists working for established news organizations with a strong presence in social media enjoy both visibility and credibility.

Social Influence Environment

Trust is waning when it comes to large-scale influencer marketing. Although 51 percent of consumers in the 2018 Global Comms Report place celebrity spokespeople in the top three as influential in their opinion, only 3 percent of consumers trust celebrities when purchasing a product in a store. Celebrity influencers have notoriously failed to come off as authentic. They have increasingly uneven audiences and are vulnerable to scandals, which could affect a brand’s reputation. For example, there are instances of celebrities posting an image endorsing a brand’s product but with a copied and pasted script. This sort of negligence leads to everyday consumers’ distrust and outrage. These issues of volatility are changing the environment for effective communications strategies.

On the other hand, mainstream journalists are now more trusted. Many frequently interact with their audience on social with 66 percent reporting they do it daily. This ordinary social media presence makes them more like everyday consumers (who are ranked the highest in the Global Comms Report survey.) Since there’s no plan when it comes to genuine online validation of a product or service from an everyday consumer, journalists seem more like a friend or family member. It’s original and honest, which leads to consumer trust. These sorts of interactions are happening increasingly often. In 2012, 83 percent of journalists said they were using social networks at least once a week compared to 90 percent in 2017. 

In the midst of data breaches and fake news, information from mainstream journalists is considered more reputable. People trust specific mainstream journalists more than social media giants like Facebook or Twitter. In terms of expert information sources, journalists are seen as thought leaders in their fields, making them depended upon-not just influential. For instance, consumers trust academics, analysts and journalists even more than companies they already use.

Optimizing Communications Efforts

As mainstream journalists continue to stake out a trustworthy space online, communications pros must be careful while adjusting their efforts along with consumer trust. Media today is a complex, fluctuating environment with multiple streams, both digital and traditional. Pros must have a particularly keen eye on social media while pitching to journalists. Here are some helpful suggestions:

Begin with Authenticity

Journalists are clearly gaining trust from consumers through authenticity. This means PR pros have to begin with this in mind as well. Personalized, original pitches can make a big difference. 72 percent of journalists say that pitches can be improved by tailoring them to suit beats/coverage.

Explain the Context

PR pros must clearly summarize how their brand is right for a particular platform.

82 percent of journalists say PR professionals can improve by researching and understanding their media outlet. This includes looking into the journalist’s social media and broader context on a variety of platforms. Then use this information to create a pitch that is relevant and concise.

Prioritize Quality Over Quantity

Journalists appreciate high-quality pitches more than ever as insincerity proliferates in digital communications. This means also paying attention to all details of the interaction, including the method of communication. 90 percent of journalists indicate that email is the best way to directly pitch a story idea, showing its continued dominance over other methods.

Consider a Hybrid Strategy

If PR stories make it to traditional media outlets they are still effective and perhaps increasingly effective. This is due to the fact that mainstream media like news articles or radio reach a large swath of important consumers from investors, to business peers and the general public. At the same time, digital communications dominate our world and new online versions of mainstream media organizations offer a chance to reach this same audience except expanded onto the web.

Deciding the ratio of pitching to mainstream/alternative and traditional/digital media outlets is a matter of figuring out what is most relevant for any given brand. At the end of the day, digital and social media platforms help promote a brand’s content so it’s more likely to be picked up by news media. This is done successfully through sharing and reposting links through websites, blogs, and various social channels.

Conclusion

Journalists are generating high-quality news coverage for the purpose of educating others rather focusing on the popularity of their content. This makes them one of the most authentic groups yet they are more difficult to convince than other influencers. Communications professionals need to be able to narrow down relevant journalists and create effective pitches through comprehensive research. Endorsements from mainstream journalists are currently one of the strongest ways to tie your brand to a reputable source and gain consumer trust.

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About Maggie Latham

Maggie Latham is a Cision contributor.

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