Skip to Main Content

Should PR abandon the sinking (reader)ship?

Posted by Max Tatton-Brown on 2nd November 2010

The question went round recently as to whether or not PRs were still pitching The Times since it put up the paywall, considering rumoured subscription levels of as few as 40,000 readers.

Today, the publisher has advanced the debate by revealing official measurement of over 150,000 ‘paid-for sales’ across their digital products. However, sceptics are questioning how many of these were £1 daily access payments alongside the more long term contracts, a distinction which could make a difference of millions in revenue.

Short-sited (sic)

So were people being too hasty to label the experiment a flop after just three months? Perhaps. It’s a brave move and still in the early stages of both its own life and the model as a whole.

But while the ambiguities of profitability remain, the PR discussion continues. And I for one think it’s a question which betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how good PR works and even how people should do business in general.

Sink or swim?

Any decent PR campaign takes note of the readership of target publications both in quantity and quality. However, there’s a swirling group of accompanying factors which PRs have a responsibility to bear in mind in conjunction with this topline information.

But top of this list for me is the idea that relationships with a publication are defined by your relationships with the journalists working there.

Downhill from here

The suggestion that you’d abandon working relationships with journalists on a leading national in the early days of a new experiment is at best short-sighted neglect and at worst, it risks killing the goose that lays the golden egg. If today’s figures are to be believed, it only emphasises the risk of underestimating the potential of this business model’s success.

With many suggesting the move as a pioneering gesture to be followed by The News of the World and surely others next year, the question drifts into absurdity once you consider applying it to anyone who puts the paywall up.

Indeed, if you look at the success other publications like the Financial Times have had, it only deepens the sense of how risky it would be to hastily dismiss publications whose audience numbers could easily regrow to former strengths.

Is this for real?

Between this and the hundreds of thousands of readers that the publication finds in print (lest we forget, the same copy often appears in both), the question for me is really whether it’s feasible that any PR or their clients could genuinely consider cutting The Times from its target list.

Had a different experience? I’d love to hear about it.

Max Tatton-Brown