The Publicity Puzzle


Organizations That Want To Survive and Prosper Have To Adjust To Three Game-Changing Facts.

As a source for news, printed newspapers now place fourth behind television, online sources and radio. A 2016 survey by Pew Research Center indicates that online sources like social media, websites and apps are preferred by people under the age of 50. While political observers attribute seismic changes in the electoral process to the loss of professional objective press news sources, the impact on business is no less significant.

For most of the 20th century, newspapers were the main forum for public communication. The accumulation of newspaper stories defined public awareness of issues. Businesses serving small- to medium-sized communities could buy newspaper and radio advertising, send out press releases, and develop good working relationships with newspapers in order to manage their reputations and sustain profitable relationships with their customers and business partners.

No one is predicting the diminished role of newspapers, television and radio; it is here. The forum for public discussion and consensus formation is forever changed. Organizations that want to survive and prosper have to adjust to three game-changing facts:

  • The distinctions between news reporting, advertising, marketing and public relations are dissolving.
  • Managing the online company profile is top priority.
  • There is no forum.

Advertising and marketing were good ways to get specific messages to specific publics. Usually everyone a company might want to reach read the newspaper, so a display ad or classified ad almost guaranteed that a message would reach its target audience.

Of course, advertisements are viewed with healthy skepticism because they are so completely controlled by the companies that pay for them. Positive newspaper stories were desirable complements to advertising because they were written by journalism professionals who were supposed to have nothing at stake in the issues they covered. It was a manageable balance, especially for honest companies that exhibited genuine good will toward their communities.

Online sources like LinkedIn, company websites and Wikipedia, can be managed by the company. They are part news, part advertising and part public relations. The opportunity for creating a brand and establishing a desirable reputation is greater, and there is less threat of contrary perspectives since there are no professional journalists to author them and no dominant forum in which to present them.

Large corporations with public relations departments can take advantage of new opportunities in the online environment, but smaller businesses are at a disadvantage. If some businesses can manage their reputations, then all business must manage their reputations.

But developing websites and managing social media are time-consuming, expensive undertakings. Companies that can spend more on website development and hire social media managers can buy better reputations than competitors who might have superior service and product, but less money to spend on self-promotion.

Here are some suggestions for adapting to the new online environment:

  • Make social media literacy part of the job requirements for all new exempt staff. The culture inside the company needs to reflect the culture outside the company. All decision makers need to monitor and be concerned about the company’s digital public image. New staff members with social media sensitivities will eventually heighten the awareness of the entire management team.
  • If you can’t afford a staff to manage your online presence, then hire a consultant to periodically critique and revise your online material and to train current employees to manage it.
  • Benchmark your competition. Form a committee of employees with diverse job descriptions and ask them to review your online profile and those of your competitors and make recommendations.

Minimally, every company should have a website and a LinkedIn account just to establish its existence and professionalism. A company Facebook page is essential for public relations needs.

And don’t forget newspapers and radio. They haven’t disappeared. Press releases and traditional advertising are still worthwhile. Stories published online by newspapers are especially useful if they can be linked to Facebook accounts and websites for greater exposure.


Thomas J. Roach, Ph.D., has 30 years experience in communication as a journalist, media coordinator, communication director and consultant. He has taught at Purdue University Calumet since 1987, and is the author of “An Interviewing Rhetoric.” He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..