Paywalls were the response of several media organizations to a crisis foretold. The funding model based largely on advertising was reviewed and several newspapers opted to protect their articles with digital subscription systems. The impact of these decisions has extended not only to readers, but also to communication agencies and press office professionals, whose work is based on ensuring that the messages their clients wish to transmit in the media are published and, in fact, read.
Therefore, it would not be surprising to acknowledge a possible distrust towards a communication company unable to ensure, on the same scale and with the same amplitude, that its clients communicate; and, furthermore, with added difficulties in the access and monitoring of contents. But paywalls quickly came to be seen as opportunities. It is true that the transmission of information has tapered off: fewer people will read an article intended only for newspaper subscribers. It is also true that fewer readers will be drawn from the torrential river of scrolling: and if they are, many will be, only to return. But the important question – and this has always been the important question for the press office – is not who will not read it; it is, precisely, the opposite: who will read it.
Behind a paywall is an interested reader – otherwise they would hardly spend money on a commodity that, while important, circulates in loose quantities (and sometimes dubious quality) across every imaginable digital medium. But there is also a reader who trusts what he or she is given to read; and, of necessity, a newspaper that wants to ensure that trust. Paywalls have brought media with greater desire and greater need for criteria, for creativity, for response to readers’ investment. So the job of the press office – to put a client’s message behind a paywall – is no longer just to make it news, but a type of news: news with enough credibility and notoriety to be conveyed to readers who pay to read the medium.
Therein lies the crux of the matter. Because the fundamental work of the press office is to build credibility. It is not enough for a brand to be credible, it is necessary that potential consumers see it as such. This becomes particularly clear in the case of media dedicated to a certain sector, such as tourism. Being paid for, and therefore less accessible, and therefore read by a smaller group of potential consumers, how much is it worth, nevertheless, that the history and values of an accommodation are known by people whose interest in the sector is pronounced enough to make them pay for a newspaper subscription or purchase a magazine article online? How much more valuable, for a brand that wants to sell itself, is reading from an attentive consumer with an interest in knowing more about that company’s sector, than reading from a larger but fleeting audience? And how much stronger will the image of a brand be disclosed in an article in a newspaper that, because it has a strong reputation and a consistent audience, has been able to protect much of the information it produces?
In a time populated by digital marketing strategies, targeting, segmentation and specialization, the press office does not escape the rule – and paywalls, although occasional challenges to human patience, are nevertheless opportunities.