Agency Corner – The News Pipeline

The changing world of media and how we consume it is very much to the fore in a ‘post factual’ and ‘fake news’ landscape and it is impacting on how we get access to the stars of the sporting show.

Last week, a group of PR agencies and journalists agreed a new method for getting relevant access to players as part of major partnerships between brands and sport.

The pre show publicity for AIB’s Toughest trade was one of the first media events under the new guidelines which seek to give fair access to the different demands of print media, online and broadcast.

When Shane Williams and Michael Murphy’s words of wisdom on Wales vs Ireland and the GAA’s Super 8 were splashed across the internet and in Wednesday morning’s papers they were drawn from set piece interviews with groups of journalists at the offices of WHPR.

Journalists writing for online only publications, including Sport for Business, were in one room, those from the online and print editions of the ‘mainstream media’ in another, and the radio journalists huddled together waiting their turn.

It’s a long way from journalists ringing sports stars one after another to get their time and thoughts. It’s also a long way from when those media relationships were down to the journalist with little to do with teams or sponsors.

There is still the ‘mixed zone’ of comment straight after big games or major events and much of sporting media is still generated by match reports and results, the live game.

In advance of events now though the pipeline of access between media and those the public want to read about or hear from is a lot more controlled.

One of the key elements of a sponsorship now is the access to players for onward sharing with media. The quid pro quo is that images bearing the sponsor brand will appear in return for that precious access.

It used to be that the papers would be protected in some part from the tidal wave of online coverage by an embargo so that interviews did not appear online until after midnight or later in the morning.

In recent times though the biggest challenge to those embargo’s came from the online edition of the same publications. They wanted to be out with their pieces so as to lead the social media discussion rather than being perceived as following it.

The bigger agencies with an involvement in sport including PSG, WHPR, Legacy, Murray’s, Cullen Communications, Edelman, Fleishman Hillard, Thinkhouse and others have engaged in consultation with different groups of writers from the major sports and are trying to figure out a best way to keep everybody onside.

If brands pull access to the stars then the oxygen of publicity is cut off. If media outlets don’t give something by way of mention to the brand then the complex relationship that exists within top sport becomes a little more fragile.

News has always been about access as much as insight. In order to interpret the words of a sporting star in advance of a big event you need to be able to talk to them. If that conversation happens now through the prism of a commercial partnership then so be it.

The shifting sands on which editorial independence and access to the stars that generate page views, readers and eyeballs are still quite a way from settling.

In many ways the different media have a different way of reaching their audience and a different depth to what they will cover. There is probably a space for all to survive and thrive to varying degrees but the ways in which the news is managed for them still has a way to go.

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