How do you continue to make an impact when the media is shrinking?

By André Labadie, MD, Business & Technology, Brands2Life.

The media landscape has changed and continues to change fast in the UK through a combination of declining readership, the commercialisation of the relationship between brands and the media, and, crucially, the emergence of a number of ‘mega’ issues such as Brexit, climate change and, of course, COVID-19.

It’s safe to say that all communications agencies will have felt this change over recent years but, as businesses re-assess their communications, we wanted to uncover the big trends we’re seeing now, look ahead to what comes next and, crucially, highlight how brands can get their voices heard.

To delve into the detail, we partnered with Media Measurement and analysed millions of articles in the top UK titles. The result is Navigating The New Landscape: Brands and Media in 2021, a new report which explores the changing UK media landscape and its impact on brand presence in the press, and shows how the big issues increasingly dominate. This report takes a helicopter view of the UK media through the lens of some of the world’s biggest brands and analyses how their presence in the media, and the topics they are associated with, has evolved over the last five years and how it could evolve further in the future.

The conclusions are fascinating.

The findings reveal that the total number of articles published by leading UK media outlets has shrunk significantly (21%) over the last five years, meaning brands are having to fight harder than ever to secure coverage. Based upon thorough analysis of 25 national and business media titles since 2016, articles mentioning brands has fallen steeply – by 28% – over that period.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has, unsurprisingly, been the main driver of issue-led coverage in the last 17 months, there has also been an increase in the proportion of media articles referring to the ‘big issues’.

In 2020, excluding COVID-19 and Brexit, the issues that have come to the fore include racial justice and equality, mental health and wellbeing, the Future of Work and AI and climate change – with climate change more than doubling its presence in the news in Q1 2021 compared to Q3 2016. Migrants & refugees, sustainability and Big Data saw considerable falls in volume of coverage.

The research indicates that many brands are putting their efforts around purpose and sustainability at the centre of their communications, based upon a steady year-on-year rise of discussion of brands in connection with these big issues. Even excluding COVID-19, there was still a steady increase in the proportion of brand coverage mentioning social issues from 5% of brand articles in 2015/16 to 15% in 2020/21.

The report also explores how traditional drivers of proactive coverage for brands, research and surveys, are in decline. The number of articles generated by this approach reduced by 44% from 2015/16 and the number of articles driven by research and surveys with a prominent brand mention more than halved (-55%).

What the findings mean for brands is two-fold.

Firstly, to cut through the noise you need a strong story that, ideally, taps into societal issues and broader consumer trends but in a credible way that’s reflected in the behaviours of the business as a whole.

Secondly, the same tactics that have traditionally succeeded in driving media coverage are no longer guaranteed to work, therefore the emphasis must continue to be on creating a robust narrative and stories that engage media from the very beginning.

To put it simply, the need for better stories to drive bigger impact is more relevant than ever.

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