Out of Scope

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Written by

Steve Hirsch

Out of Scope

Today’s media is not tomorrow’s – but a strong reputation can withstand the change.

Media is a fragile industry. Titans remain, but recent layoffs at The Messenger, TechCrunch, Sports Illustrated, and, sadly, many others indicate the most reputable publications could generate the next layoff headline.

The stakes have never been higher — for journalists and for the companies pitching them.

A changing media landscape doesn’t change what C-suite leaders and businesses need from it: awareness and credibility that close deals, attract partners, and enable growth. All of which are even more important in the current high-risk business environment.

While it’s tempting to experiment with a new bag of tricks that matches the new media landscape, the truth is, today’s media landscape is not tomorrow’s — and it’s definitely not the same landscape we’ll be discussing a year from now.

In times of uncertainty and volatility, reinvesting in reputation — not just clicks — is the best protection a business can buy.

The state of media, today

While journalists are taught never to become the story, in 2023, they were all the media could talk about as over 3,000 positions were laid off amid industry struggle. In January 2024 alone, an additional 500 journalists met a similar fate at outlets like NBC News and Business Insider.

The sheer volume of layoffs in journalism doesn’t just raise questions about the future of the profession and industry. For companies who rely on these publications to generate awareness, thoughtfully articulate their narrative, and fuel their growth, it raises another question: what now?

Today, when a single tweet or TikTok can upend (or launch) a company’s bottom line in minutes, bolstering brand health has never been more important. Remember when Kylie Jenner asked her followers “does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore?” sinking its stock by more than 7% – or $1.3 billion in market value? Or more recently, when conservative activists targeted Anheuser-Busch InBev for its partnership with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney – resulting in the brand losing over $27 billion in market value?

While historically, companies may look to the media first and foremost to reset the narrative in these moments, as reporter turnover increases, publications peter out, and their business models change, the hard truth is companies can’t rely on earned media and reporter relationships in the way they once did. Instead, they should view it as just one component of their broader reputation management strategy.

Just like you diversify your portfolio, diversify your reputation tactics

Reputation is often conflated with public image, which though similar, often entails a singular stakeholder: the media.

In 2024, a complete reputation needs to consider all spheres of influence, from employees to investors to partners to analysts and more. Given that everyone has their own microphone these days, it’s essential to show up in both expected and unexpected places, and it’s just as crucial to consider what association each of your stakeholders will have with your brand – because, ultimately, it’s how all of your stakeholders perceive your brand that will make the difference.

Consider the tire brand Michelin. When Michelin was established in 1889, the sheer lack of cars on the road posed a major challenge to growing demand. The company didn’t reinvent the literal wheel with its products to generate new customers. Instead, it created a travel guide that could ignite cultural intrigue around new shops, restaurants, and activities to get more folks on the road, while simultaneously boosting brand awareness.

Today, Michelin is the most valuable brand in its market and one of the most influential in the world — not because of the products it sells, but because of its reputation to key stakeholders and decision-makers as the gatekeeper of cuisine and communities.

A strong reputation, like the one Michelin has built, ensures a brand’s awareness and credibility aren’t dependent on a singular article or website, creating greater protection and opportunities in a constantly changing media environment.

Creating a reputational framework designed for resilience

Reputation isn’t a one-time, zero-sum game of clear winners and losers. It’s an always-on, ever-evolving engine that drives companies toward their largest goals. Strong brands outperform the market by 73%, after all.

Yet, just last year, only half (51%) of organizations had plans in place to respond to reputational risks. The lack of foundational infrastructure itself is a hefty risk in itself amid corporate culture wars, ESG pushback, rising privacy concerns, and more that place corporate leaders under greater scrutiny than ever before.

To build resilience that can withstand and overcome the next wave of risks (in the media landscape and beyond), leaders must invest in the tools, processes, and people that enable ongoing, proactive reputation management and responsiveness across all channels — from traditional media and social platforms to in-person forums and closed-door meetings.