The Age of the Media Artisan

October 3, 2016

By: Rachel Catanach

I cringe when I see the word artisan.  It’s over-used and applied liberally when there is no evidence of real craft.  I saw a large property company recently claiming their development was artisanal and the mind boggled.

However, it is a word we could think about applying to aspects of the PR profession: the ability to craft something in small quantities that has real intrinsic value.

There has been a lot of talk about what is needed in the universe of new Public Relations. Certainly, creativity and content development skills are critical.  As is a good dose of commonsense.  One thing we lose at our peril, however, is excellent media relations skills. Although it sounds counter-intuitive, with newspaper readership continuing to drop, the ability to craft good story angles, develop media strategies that ensure the right people are targeted with the right message, and negotiate with media based on a mutual appreciation of what is news, has never been more important.

Traditional media still carries considerable clout and it drives the news agenda in most markets, with China being the notable exception.  Those who have strong relationships with senior reporters and understand what media want are worth their weight in gold.  And at this point, no one else can do media better than PR professionals in the competitive mash-up of digital, creative and media agencies.

But today the stakes are higher.  The demand is not for workman-like competence in media relations but artistry.  Fewer outlets means there is more competition for the available space.  Journalists themselves are measured on the popularity of their pieces, placing more demand on PR professionals to bring something really new to the table – and high quality to boot.

And it’s an And/And world.  There are new ways of engaging with media and amplifying their reach through influencer and social strategies.   Whether to manage reputation or build brand, every media strategy should include the following elements:

  • Story arc: The core story idea and messages that will have the most gravitational pull with media and audiences, helping take them on a journey of discovery.
  • Brand characters: The brand spokespeople, third parties such as suppliers, influencers, customers, investors or employees who will bring the story to life.
  • Asset-rich content: Although the media release is a useful as a stake-in-the ground, it doesn’t have much functional value beyond that. News media are building their audiences through multi-media assets that extend the story beyond the printed page.  The ability of PR professionals to create rich content that provides additional insights and moments of “truth” is critical, especially for cash- and resource- strapped media organisations.
  • Print distribution: The traditional media that are best placed to tell the story and reach the intended audience through their print editions.
  • Online distribution: The online editions of traditional media that have the best potential to reach the intended audience. These in fact may be different from the traditional media print editions.  In the United States, for example, the U.S. web traffic coming to or (measured in terms of unique visitors) would place them within the top five U.S.-based newspapers by web traffic, while and would rank in the top 10.
  • Influencer engagement: The influencers who already have an interest in the topic and can extend the discussion further or amplify the story through their own channels. A recent study from the Pew Research Center revealed troublingly low levels of reader engagement with news content on social media. While readers are using online channels, particularly mobile, to read news they are not sharing it with the same level of alacrity.   Harnessing influencers as part of a media strategy could increase engagement (i.e. number of shares and comments), and shift results from awareness to advocacy.
  • Social sharing: Social media channels, both owned and earned, that can help amplify the message, whether this be through a direct campaign to investors on LinkedIn or live streaming using periscope and twitter. In China, “participant” social media channels such as, where social stars live stream their thoughts in long-format episodes, have become extremely popular.   A recent example was Fu Yuanhui, the Chinese Olympics swimmer who became an internet sensation, winning hearts with her funny faces and straight-talking about topics such as menstruation and boyfriends.

So, treasure the craft of your media relations specialists but pair them up with social strategists, creative specialists and influencer marketers.  Get them all working together, sharing insights and swapping recipes for success.   Then you really have the right ingredients for media artistry.

Rachel Catanach is the Senior Partner, Senior Vice President, Managing Director at FleishmanHillard Hong Kong and board member and former Chair of the Council of Public Relations Firms of Hong Kong. You can reach her at