The Big PR Question: How will Covid-19 Affect the Media


By Jack Murray

The world is in the greatest crisis for over a century, not since the Spanish flu of 1919 has an illness wreaked such chaos in every corner of the globe. Curiously, we have never been so tuned into the media as we are now, but the media has never been under greater pressure financially and from Covid-19.

Please explain the problem?

The key factors in how Covid-19 is affecting the media are as follows:

  • News media has never been more in demand. Every Government, and health announcement is scrutinised in great detail.
  • News is the one media product that people expect for ‘free’. It is a public service, but curiously it is provided by both state and commercial media outlets. For decades it has proved almost impossible to monetise. When it is needed most, like now, it’s free availability as a public service. So it is unlike other commodities like hand sanitiser or masks  – it’s value does not increase. In fact, trying to commercialise it in a time of global crisis would receive a severe rebuke.
  • State broadcasters that are in financial difficulty are likely to get a more sympathetic ear from Governments now. Their services are essential in this crisis.
  • Certain sectors within the media are under huge pressure. One example is sport. Sports journalism is a huge revenue driver and a good news story. There is no sport now and this is a huge cost to media organisations. What will they do? Some journalists in national media will be deployed to news and other duties and in local media some will be let go.
  • Advertising revenue is going to dry up for all media. This is likely to be most acutely felt in the first instance by local media as small businesses were the first to close. But in time it will be felt by all the media.
  • Advertising patterns in a crisis are discernible. For example print display advertising is a favoured media of large supermarkets. This is only going to continue at pace as they are one of the few sectors to experience a boom in the crisis.
  • The public relations industry is likely to still have a relevant role as people shop for value in getting key messages to their audiences. This is likely to be hampered by the dark clouds of the Covid-19 story that is blocking the sunlight from all other topics.
  • The advertising industry is likely to be hit as businesses close and economic activity dries up. There will certainly be boom sectors but this work is likely to be focused in particular areas like pharmacy and supermarkets to name just two. Whole industries like motor, hospitality and travel have grind to a halt.
  • There is an opportunity for targeted online media who have a great connection with their audience. In an era when everyone is online more, there’s a chance to build a committed audience and monetise it with advertising.
  • Cover price revenue is going to take a major hit and could collapse for certain media types. This is due to people not visiting shops and being much less likely to purchase ‘non-essential’ items like newspapers. Glossy magazines will be very badly hit as they are a luxury or treat purchase and their circulation is likely to massively contract.
  • Many media outlets are run on a shoestring after years of cuts and rationalisations. The big question is are they lean enough now to survive?
  • The size and nature of Government rescue packages will determine who survives the turmoil in the media industry.

What is likely to happen in the future?

  • Media outlets will rationalise, let people go and unfortunately close.
  • At least a number of national media outlets could go to the wall in many markets.
  • Local, trade and magazines are under particular pressure.
  • Specialised media, especially in areas like sport are under terrible pressure.
  • Journalists will lose their jobs.

How will Covid-19 affect the media?

Negatively. There will be some respite from Government rescue packages, but it won’t be enough. We will lose many media outlets – especially local and specialised media. Whole categories of journalists are now at a loose end. Spare a thought for the sports, hospitality and travel media. We will emerge from this but our media will be even smaller.


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