New Zealand’s media landscape transforms overnight

3 April 2020

Communicators' essential skill of reading the nation’s mood, adapting their messages accordingly and telling stories has been sorely tested in the past week.

Each day comes news in equal doses of hope, despair and optimism. For Public Relations practitioners the challenge is not just coping with the daily flood of news, working from home and keeping in contact with colleagues and clients but also adapting to the changing media landscape.

The announcement of Bauer’s withdrawal from New Zealand and closure of decades-old titles sent a shockwave through ‘Adland’, PR agencies and the magazine-buying public.

Wright Communications Managing Director Nikki Wright says the Bauer closure brought the troubles of print media, notwithstanding the pandemic lockdown, into stark relief.

“Unfortunately, some publishers have been slow to respond to declining print sales and have not committed to online platforms. While one or two of the established Bauer magazines may be rescued, the future for lifestyle and current affairs content will be in integrated online offerings. As an agency we are gearing up for that future.

“We've become proficient users of video calling applications, are adjusting to our new work-from-home "colleagues" and have dealt with some harsh news from around the world together, as a team.”

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent move to Stage 4 isolation has undoubtedly changed the way the media is operating, but media coverage opportunities have not decreased significantly. If anything, opportunity has increased when a relevant, curated approach to media relations is taken.

New Zealand's unprecedented status of Stage 4 isolation is thoroughly reflected in the media landscape - the general public is consumed by the topic, as is the media.

New Zealand's key media outlets are heavily focused on COVID-19 stories - Jacinda Ardern's daily updates, updates from the Director-General of Health, and information from Finance Minister Grant Robertson are news stories that take priority over everything else. Most stories are filtered through a COVID-19 lens, whether they have a lifestyle, entertainment, financial, political or environmental focus.

Woven throughout this coverage is a large focus on health and wellbeing, as New Zealanders vastly reduce their social contact with friends, family, colleagues and neighbours. Communities are being urged to look out for one another; particularly the elderly, as many people in this vulnerable age group live alone.

Home workouts, DIY activities around the house, recipe sharing, work-from-home advice, YouTube tutorials and 30-day social media challenges have seen a huge increase, as New Zealanders look for productive ways to spend their isolation time.

Having spoken with journalists from key publications, Wright Communications has discovered that the news media are still receptive to news stories that don't concern COVID-19 - particularly any positive stories that can help to deflect the massive burden currently felt by all New Zealanders.

Broadcast media outlets are still functioning despite the Stage 4 isolation status, with small changes being made to their operations to ensure they comply with the lockdown rules. Radio stations are conducting all interviews over the phone, and TV outlets are using Skype and FaceTime to broadcast interviewees into their studios.

“We adopted this approach this week with two of our clients - Martin Hawes (Summer KiwiSaver) and Jason Shoebridge (Kantar) - featuring on Seven Sharp and The AM Show respectively. Using tools like Skype, we are adapting to secure relevant, insightful coverage for our clients without having to leave the house,” says Nikki.

“COVID-19 will touch all of our lives in some way, but we’re determined to stay adaptable, resilient, and positive for the people and companies we represent.”