In my forty years in the PR and advertising business and twenty-plus years serving clients, I have yet to discover a completely viable method of quantifying the effectiveness or difference between the two main marketing tools –advertising and public relations. Both can be effective but are very different in what they return for the investment. I’ve always recommended that a client – if they can afford it – execute a coordinated campaign of both PR and advertising. In this instance, I am referring to traditional online or print ads, not digital ads designed to enhance SEO. The old fashioned conundrum of running an ad campaign versus a targeted PR campaign still exists within small companies with limited marketing budgets. You want and need both, but simply is not affordable. If one must be chosen as a budget priority, PR in the form of earned media outreach offers the following advantages:
– Credibility, credibility, credibility – Quite simply, ad content is what you are saying about yourself. PR stories are what someone else is saying about you. You can’t buy credibility. You earn it by convincing the media your story is newsworthy enough to deserve editorial time or space.
– Cost – PR will be less costly, particularly in national media. To buy commercial time or space in a national media almost always far exceeds what you will pay for a much longer and more comprehensive PR story or appearance.
– Engagement – Stories presented within the normal content of a show or even editorial content of a magazine, engage and immerse the audience much more than an ad, no matter how creative.
– Brand building – Nothing will build a company’s brand more effectively than the word-of- mouth and social media virality of the stories that have earned in-depth editorial coverage.
Advertising is the content people put up with in order to get to the content they actually want to see. People will gladly fast forward through a commercial in order to get to watch what Rachael Ray or Ryan & Kelly are talking about on their show. Or they’ll click out of an online ad in order to read the article beneath it. Wouldn’t you rather be part of the content people want to actually see versus the stuff they fast forward, skip, and click to get rid of?
Again, if the budget allows, a good promotional communication plan will incorporate both PR and advertising and perhaps other marketing tools as well. But if the marketing budget is limited, the PR media outreach provides the greatest bang for the buck.
Breaking News Overload
The PR pro’s dilemma. One would think that with the ever expanding media covering the 24/7 news cycle, there would be ever expanding opportunities to tell a client’s deserving soft news story. Not true. Simply put, if a story doesn’t fit within the narrow confines of the hot topic of the moment, i.e., breaking hard news, then those opportunities become very, very limited, indeed. And of course, the very definition of ‘breaking hard news’ has become so diluted and overused in today’s ubiquitous cable news world, that it’s lost any semblance of what it was intended to convey. I’m sure you’ve noticed the same ‘breaking news’ story continues over an entire news cycle until it should be labeled, ‘old news’ or at a minimum, ‘old breaking news.’
To those of us veteran PR types, this phenomenon, however, is nothing new. It probably can be traced back to the early nineties when a certain white Bronco led the LA cops on a merry chase culminating in an arrest and trial that was not just “must-see TV” but covered ad infinitum by the worldwide media for months. If your client’s story, no matter how vital or interesting, did not somehow relate to what was the ‘breaking news’ in the LA courtroom, then it fell on deaf ears within the media. And just about the time that we had all recovered from “OJ-it is” then the horrible tragedy of 9-11 was inflicted on us. In this instance, the media was certainly justified in focusing almost entirely on the barbaric acts and their aftermath on the American psyche. But while justified, the result was the same…soft news, not directly or indirectly tied to the events of 9-11, simply wasn’t attractive to the mainstream media.
Today, we PR types are faced with yet another breaking news story that appears to have no end in sight. And while hardly of the seriousness of 9-11 or the pop cultural impact of the great Bronco chase, the Trump presidency has the same effect. It’s a giant black media hole, absorbing any and all media pitches not related to our forty-fifth president and his daily misadventures. We’re PR people. We’re in the soft news business. Soft news, that which is the essence of our daily lives in business, in our personal lives, in everything not political, is being stymied by a media that is almost totally preoccupied with the “breaking news” of presidential actions and its sidebar of the President’s tweets.
Trump, Trump, and more Trump… Almost makes a PR guy wish for a little O.J.
Courtesy of Adobe Stock.
David Letterman used to do a comedy piece having the audience determine whether photos of various entertainers and celebrities were wearing their real hair or a toupee’. The audience would shout out, their opinion…” real” or “fake” at each photo. Sound familiar?
Well, not many are laughing now that we daily are subjected to such a debate about all the different sources of information coming at us across the media spectrum. Recently Mark Folllman, authored a piece in Mother Jones magazine, that for those in and outside the media, presents a real subject and needs to be taken seriously. And yes, at the annual Washington Correspondents’ Dinner while doing its best to take comedic jabs at the subject, many of the attending media celebrities made serious in their comments.
Of course, there is nothing new about administrations claiming the media is biased in its reporting…or try to manipulate the news to its advantage. That’s a time honored tradition practiced by all those on Mount Rushmore and some. The media was given the title, “the Fourth Estate” because that has always been its role in government…to objectively offer a counter balance to the three branches in power. What’s different today, like the Presidency itself, is both the lack of civility and the means of communicating it. The “bully pulpit” has become the “twitter pulpit’ instantly conveying an opinion to fervent followers. And, witnessing Sean Spicer struggle daily with what he hopes is his boss’s current position on real and fake, has become the new definition of “real news.”
Which news stories can we believe, when carefully researched facts can still be presented in a biased manner? Does it simply come down to, if we like the source, then it must be “real,” and if we don’t like the source, then it is always, “fake”? That content is not nearly as important as the author’s perceived politics? Ironically, it was another late night comedian, Jimmy Fallon, who messed with the famous Trump hair, and thus established it was not a toupee, but “real.” Or was that staged? We live in a strange time where as Mr. Follman, states, “Fake news is chillingly real”…or is it?
Photo: Adobe Stock
There are a few of us – dwindling to but a precious few every year – that remember the golden age of magazine journalism…Life, Look, Collier’s, Time, Fortune, Sports Illustrated…and later as our tastes grew younger…People, INC, Fast Company, InStyle, Healthy Living, etc. A recent story in the New York Times regarding Time, Inc. brought back both these memories and how fragile they may well be.
The New York Times article recounted how Time, Inc. under its new C-suite management, is attempting to revitalize its brand, perhaps even to be an acquisition target, not with a nod to its journalistic past, but toward “a multimedia, multipurpose company, with a strategy heavy on online video, television and entertainment – and noticeably lighter on magazine journalism.” Henry Luce, the iconic founder of Time, Inc., and whose portrait still hangs in the board room where this interview took place, must have noticeably sighed and fidgeted uncomfortably at these words from two executives most recently from television entertainment and a website named PopSugar.
Obviously, the plight of traditional journalism – magazines, newspapers, and even broadcast – to survive, let alone thrive, in this new digital age is nothing new and been well documented. Iconic journalistic brands like The Washington Post and even The New York Times are going against the winds of change and fighting daily to hold their own – but barely. Why must this be? Is there still not a demand for the well-researched, well documented, indeed, well-written news story presented on the printed page? Ironically, the Times article author leans toward believing the owner of such great names as Time, Fortune, Money, Sports Illustrated, and yes, People, may be where the real value of the company lies; and not with its videos and digital products. “In the end, it may be in those venerable magazines that made it so prominent in the first place.”
We in the PR business witness daily this same irony. Embryonic start-up companies have a masterly knowledge of everything digital and online. But, when they go through their checklists of “PR wants,” invariably have near the top of such lists, the ability to land a story in the print versions of major publications. A story that reflects the credibility of professional journalism, real news with staying power. Content that yes, can be easily reproduced and transmitted online and through all the digital channels; but also a real piece of journalism that will lie on the lunch table and hang framed on the wall.
It’s a good lesson for the old-line traditional media companies as well as their often digitally hip management teams. Probably something old Henry Luce understood even if he had never heard of PopSugar.
HighQ, predicts that 2017 will account for 74 percent of all internet traffic, and already 55 percent of people watch videos online every day. But what does that mean for PR Agencies? According to HighQ, video is growing in the business world too, with 75 percent of business executives watching online video every week. They made a cool infographic that has the stats to back this prediction up.
How many times as a PR firm principle have you received an RFP (request for proposal) from a prospective client only to dread the process of filling out the paperwork, checking the boxes, and desperately trying to shoehorn your uniqueness into the prescribed requirements and capabilities section? All too often, the initial assignment is handed off to a junior account person to do the heavy lifting and research and even the first compliance draft. By the time it reaches the business development desk for final polishing, it’s already far along enough in it’s paint-by-numbers’ format that it’s a boring document that will find its place among all the other boring documents arriving in the prospective client’s in-box. It doesn’t have to be.
We have a slightly different take on RFP’s. As a pay-for-performance PR firm, we seldom fit the prescribed boxes or rigidly required criteria, we look at every RFP as an opportunity to demonstrate our creativity tied to the prospective client’s needs; and in so doing present our capabilities in a fun, visual manner.
We may not win every piece of business or even the majority of them, but we’ll enjoy the process and leave a positive impression for the future.