Among the most significant misconceptions in marketing today, there are two that intersect at the subject of media relations. The misconceptions are:
1. Placing publicity in trade and business publications (print or web) can take the place of paid placements.
2. Media relations results in free publicity.
Effective marketing communications strategies often include media relations as a key component, but not for either of the above reasons. The primary benefit of media relations is credibility. Right or wrong, most readers assume what they read in a publication's editorial section is more credible than what they read in paid media, which includes pay-per-click, on-line banner ads, email campaigns, video feeds and other electronic media, as well as traditional print advertising.
Though an effective media relations program will place your message in front of one or more audience groups with maximum credibility, there is a critical attribute media relations lacks: predictable repetition. With paid media you can select the audience you want to reach with maximum efficiency, and then you can place that message in front of your prospects as often as your budget will allow (and as often as common sense dictates).
It's important to understand the value and cost of media relations if you are going to use it effectively.
Non-marketing management often sees publicity as a great way to gain positive exposure "for free". Of course, anything requiring effort has some cost attached, whether it is developed through in-house resources or by an outside media relations agency. And because good media relations requires long-term and careful execution, it is not necessarily cheap. The activities required to support a robust media relations effort include development of a clean media list; research and analysis of media calendars; an assessment of internal expert sources to be available for media comment; training; judicious cultivation of customers willing to speak in support of your messages and most significantly, cultivation of relationships with the key editors and writers who cover your industry.
These costs can be substantial, and they need to be clearly understood by top management. Only then can expectations be set for what value will be received. And that value includes quantifiable advertising-equivalent value and leads generated and tracked. The value of media relations also includes awareness and reputation, which can be tracked over longer periods of time.
So, media relations is not free, but it has value. Both facts need to be clearly communicated through the corporate decision-making group.
Paid media's primary benefits are repetition, awareness and lead-generation. Media relations is built around increased credibility. Each set of values supports and multiplies the other. And, ideally, measurements are consistent and integrated so that marketing communications programs are ultimately evaluated as an effective whole, rather than as disjointed pieces fighting for the same budgets.
Understanding these distinctions will result in more effective media relations and a better reputation for marketing communications within your realm. Take the time to help your management understand these key points.
By Bill Fahrenwald, Executive Director, James Street Associates, Ltd.