16 Nov 2017
What do the staff cuts at Singapore newspapers mean for PR

Is This The End Of PR As We Know It In Singapore?

The PR industry around Singapore let out a collective gasp last month when media giant Singapore Press Holdings laid off 230 employees across the organisation. While it’s cutting from a range of departments, a substantial number of job losses came from the newsrooms. It’s showing some long-serving employees from three of our major newspapers – The Straits Times, The Business Times, and Lianhe Zaobao – the door.

My WhatsApp group of industry friends was abuzz for days following the news. “We’ve been asked to hold off on pitching until further notice,” one friend said. “We can’t do media relations because we’re running out of reporters to relate to!” joked another.

An Industry in Decline

The truth is, deep down inside, we all knew this was a long time coming. It’s part of a global trend. US newspapers employ half the journalists they did 15 years ago, according to figures released by the Bureau of Labour statistics. New Beats, an ongoing study of journalism redundancies in Australia, estimates that since 2012, 3000 jobs vanished. The one exception is India, which not only boasts the largest number of paid print newspapers in the world, but overall circulation is increasing as well.

Sharp declines in ad revenue and circulation figures in Singapore newspapers meant that layoffs were inevitable, so it wasn’t a matter of if, but when it would happen.

Aside from the obvious cost savings, the staff cuts are a reflection of the changes to journalism (and subsequently PR). Audiences consume content differently thanks to mobile. The sight of commuters reading (and skilfully folding) hardcopy newspapers on the MRT is now almost non-existent.

The Knock-On Effects

It’s a stark reminder that disruption spares no industry. And in a fast-paced one such as PR, it is unlikely that things will stand still for very long.

While job cuts of this scale are never a good thing, the upside is that there is no better time to start thinking about more effective ways to communicate to audiences that will stretch your client’s marketing dollars and deliver true business impact. Perhaps it is also an opportunity for us to grow our skill set. This could mean picking up on the latest in design, lead generation and marketing automation. It’s better than bashing out yet another press release that will sit unread in an overworked journalist’s inbox.

The media will always play an important role in what we do. But with brands in a position to talk directly to their audience, the nature of the relationship inevitably shifts. Influencer marketing is just one example, and at Spectrum, we always consider paid social when putting together a PR plan. It’s a no-brainer when segmenting and targeting our audiences is so easy and accurate.

There is a downside for PR still.  You’ll probably have to explain to your parents what PR is (or isn’t) and what exactly it is you do for a living, all over again.

It will be a few months before the dust settles, so we can only wait to see what comes next. Until then, this certainly isn’t the end of PR as we know it. Things will continue evolving, but as long as we embrace change with an open mind (and keep drinking all that coffee), I think we’re all going to be okay.