Smoking Gun MD Rick Guttridge asks: ‘What happened to the media’s silly season’?


Phone hacking, riots, the economic recovery (or lack of), Libyan revolutionaries. It’s been a big summer in newsrooms, so why does that not bode well for PRs?
Well it’s simple really. When the country and its neighbours come close to the brink of social and financial collapse, journalists aren’t quite as keen to fill pages with soft news; whether that’s the latest survey or a product launch. And when globally significant events strike in the middle of silly season, or ‘summer’ as many others call it, the effects in the industry are felt ten fold.
Mid-July to August has always been seen as something of a PR’s paradise. These are months when people go on holiday, everybody’s looking for something fun to do, and spirits are usually high. Newspapers, magazines, and online news outlets are only too aware of this, and clever marketeers have long since understood that the perfect opportunity for wide scale coverage of a captivating campaign presents itself when the British public has more time on its hands and feels energised.
But when you’ve got question marks hanging over the honesty of the press, police officers and politicians, marauding bands of troublesome types looting shops in Manchester, local defenders getting run over in Birmingham, and London burning for almost 72 hours the media landscape begins to look a bit different, and then there’s the economy.
During a normal year these events would have certainly made selling in the latest vox pop on chocolate’s aphrodisiac qualities more difficult than an average July. But when said stories are themselves competing for column inches as the media has been unusually inundated with headline grabbing events from the wider world this task becomes harder still.
A crazed gunman hits Norway, and proceeds to inform local law enforcers (and subsequently international press) how he committed such heinous crimes with a guided tour. The Arab spring continues. Financial crises in the Eurozone deepen. America announces a last minute economic escape plan. Britain has understandably taken an interest in these issues too, and therefore more pages have been taken up.
Away from news events there are potentially greater problems afoot. There is less and less scope for any PR campaign when there are fewer and fewer print titles to deal with. Furthermore, when the publications that do exist are employing smaller numbers of staff, meaning journalists are often pushed as they cover two or three desks, who has any time to discuss features at length, and how are they ever expected to read everything sitting in their inbox, or attend your events.
There are some positives though, and we don’t just mean light relief from the return of X Factor and Big Brother’s re-appearance (albeit on the much-maligned Channel 5). 2011 has printed at a different speed, as we reported earlier this month. Sunday newspapers rallied in July circulation-wise, with the sector on the whole losing out due to the absence of the former biggest seller (News of the World), but many titles (mainly red tops) registered increases of 50% or more.
Of course, these are small fry gains when compared with the extent of the losses print has suffered in the last decade. That said, burgeoning profits and increased ad revenue in the digital sector also suggest a potential break in the clouds. And when it has been raining less, but pouring more, focusing on whatever positives emerge as the smoke begins to clear can only be a good thing, even if PRs and marketeers are not the direct beneficiaries.