How to Adapt Your PR Strategy in the Age of Media Distrust

November 10th, 2020

The media has a PR problem.

A series of new studies indicate distrust in the media is growing. According to the latest poll – conducted by Gallup and the Knight Foundation – 86% of Americans think media outlets lean politically one way or the other, 84% say the media are creating political division, and 80% believe media outlets are trying to convince their
audience to adopt a certain viewpoint.

Certainly not all outlets are the same, and some are trusted by people on both sides of the aisle, right? By Pew’s account, there is a handful:
PBS, BBC and the Wall Street Journal. A few others, including USA Today, don’t fare too poorly either. From there, though, it goes south pretty quickly, and how you vote is a major indicator of which news sources you trust.

The outlets that are most trusted by one party are the ones distrusted most by people of the other party. CNN and The New York Times are most trusted by liberals. On the flip side, Fox News and talk radio personalities are most trusted by conservatives.

Perhaps most interesting is that more than half of respondents admit that the media outlets they turn to have a bias, but it’s not stopping them from going to those sources for information. Four million viewers tune into Fox News during primetime and 1.38 million have a digital subscription to The New York Times. They may be biased, but their reach remains massive.

Love them or hate them, we need the media. And by “we,” I don’t just mean individuals. I mean businesses, organizations and brands. Earning press is still one of the best ways to gain credibility and reach new people.

So what is a brand to do?

  1. Avoid hyperpolarized platforms.
    If your customers tend to vote one way or the other, it’s clear which channels your audience are turning to and where you should prioritize your PR pitches. But if you want to reach Donald Trump and Joe Biden voters, it’s not as simple. In this case, avoid the online media platforms that are overtly political or have the highest bias ratings. That would be websites like Vox, Vice, BuzzFeed and Breitbart. Give talk radio a pass, too.
  2. Prioritize outlets and reporters who tend to be impartial.
    Americans may believe the media as a whole is biased, but that doesn’t mean every outlet is or that every journalist reports in a slanted manner. There are still a number of good ones out there (I assure you), and many of your local outlets won’t have the same level of leaning as the cable news outlets. The Omaha World-Herald, for example, does quite a good job of maintaining a certain level of professional neutrality. Working with these types of outlets and reporters will help you to reach a balanced demographic and score you the most points in credibility.
  3. Build an infallible story.
    Build a story based solidly on the facts. Be ready to share the data and evidence supporting your claims so people will trust what they read, hear or watch.
  4. Don’t be too critical.
    At the end of the day, good press is good press regardless of where it comes from. A positive story in The New York Times and a friendly Fox Business interview are both huge wins, no matter who you are trying to reach.

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