Posts Tagged ‘corporate communications’

4 Advantages of a PR Agency Over In-house Staff

March 29, 2013

“The internal staff person has problems and limitations that an external communications company doesn’t face.”

A couple of years ago I ended a blog post about the hidden costs of in-house PR with this thought, and I promised that I would one day expand on this theme.To that end, here is a brief examination of several big challenges that in-house communications teams face:

In-house vs PR agency

1. The internal staff often gets too close to the subject matter to be objective. However, many companies look at this from a different perspective. Corporate management reasons that, since internal staffers have a wider knowledge of the company, its people and its products than any agency could have, they’re better suited to communicate externally for the company. But that detailed knowledge is a double-edged sword. Employees become so much a part of the corporate team that they often lose their objectivity. When we come across people like this at client companies we say to ourselves, “She’s been drinking the Koolaid for too long.” The danger of not being able to be objective is that you can’t put yourself in the position of external stakeholders, such as customers, investors and media, to understand their perspectives. And if you can’t do that, you can’t appeal to them with messages that will catch their attention.

2. Counseling senior management is harder for internal PR staff.

When internal PR professionals don’t agree with the directions that top management gives them, it’s a lot harder to verbalize that disagreement (after all, the same senior management has the power to fire them, or at least make their lives very difficult). Even when an internal PR executive vehemently disagrees with senior management, his counsel is not taken as seriously as outside counsel. I’ve been on both sides, as an in-house communications staff member and an agency consultant, and I’ve seen senior executives sit on the edge of their seats when we talk to them and tell them the same thing they ignored when their own staff told them! I think sometimes we’re hired simply to provide back-up for the internal team’s counsel.

3. Agencies can focus better on the media. 

We develop social media programs, design marketing communications strategies and do media relations all day every day and in a variety of companies and industries. An in-house communications team does this only for one company in one industry and doesn’t get the chance to work on each of these areas as extensively as we do.  For example, media relations is only one of a long list of tasks assigned to the internal staffer (unless the internal team is quite large so that duties can be defined very narrowly). In that situation, there’s less ability to focus intensely on media relations, and it’s easy to let media relations slip down on the list of priorities, with the result that the company is less responsive to the media.

4. It’s easier to get professional feedback and input in an agency.

When I worked for an insurance company years ago, I was surrounded by insurance executives who really didn’t understand what was involved in the work I did. But when I joined a PR firm, I was able to turn to my co-workers for feedback and input whenever I needed it. It’s a lot easier to get good feedback on your ideas and plans when you’re working in a public relations agency setting than when you’re on an in-house communications team. I also believe that agencies are better learning environments for people who want careers in communications.

Despite these challenges, from a public relations career perspective it’s a good experience for up-and-coming professionals to put in some time “on the client side” in a marketing communications or corporate communications setting. Working inside a corporation provides insight on what it takes for various departments to work together well, and also on how they sometimes jockey with each other for political favoritism and power. This kind of insight is very valuable to have in an agency setting, because it helps in understanding why agency projects sometimes take forever to get approved by a client, how easy it is for messaging to be inconsistent from one part of a company to another, and why some projects are stopped mid-course for reasons that seem incomprehensible!

Lucy Siegel

Who Should Interact With Your PR Firm?

March 13, 2013

This blog post is courtesy of Scott Phillips of Scott Phillips + Associates:

Who-should-interact-with-your-PR-firmYou’ve gone through the process of selecting a public relations firm and are moving fast to get them up to speed and producing.   Depending on the size and structure of your company, you are probably a senior marketing executive, a product or brand specialist or perhaps even the company founder.

You are the interface between your new PR firm and the rest of the company.  Do they need to work with anyone else?   The answer is yes.

In fact, my preference is to get to know as many people in your company as possible.

The Corner Offices:  If you are going to report to superiors about our joint progress, I would like to know those individuals.  Our firm will benefit from understanding the expectations of your company’s most senior executives, as well as their vision, concerns and ideas about your competitive differentiation.

The Inside Guys:  Whether we are supporting a product, service or even a critical issue, somebody in your company was responsible for its creation or the development of the company’s position.  He or she has all the “inside baseball” information and will likely be our go-to source for in-depth explanations, technical details and the answers to questions we haven’t even thought of yet.   He or she might also be a great source for trade interviews, but we need to know that person to help make that determination.

The Finance Guys:  Whether you have a VP of Finance or CFO, that person’s perspective is always important to all of us.  From a strategic position, I want to know his or her financial objectives and concerns.  From a practical perspective, I want to know your company’s requirements for things like invoicing, expenses, etc.

Our Co-Marketers:  If you are working with an ad agency or separate social media provider, our efforts need to be coordinated.  We need to collaborate on everything from messaging to campaign timing.

The Sales Team:  The members of your sales team – the folks in the field – are among our most important contacts.   While you will direct our day-to-efforts, the sales team has information we can’t get elsewhere.   They know what messaging resonates with your audiences, the advantages you have over your competitors and where you might sometimes come up short.  They also are the first alert for pending deals and critical issues that might not get to your desk for some time.

In short, more is better.  We’ve all committed to working as a team, and we can do that best by getting to know all the players.

No More Mr. “Yes Man”: PR Professionals Can Promote Their Companies and the Public Good

February 22, 2013

The public relations industry is often portrayed as a mercenary trade dedicated to delivering corporate propaganda with little regard for the public good. To some extent, this slanted stereotype is rooted in the ethos of the old days of PR, long before the formation of professional groups with ethical standards designed to advance the practice and before it became a major academic field taught in prominent colleges and universities.

The fact is that we have come a long way since the Wild West days of PR, when sensational and sometimes deceptive information was used to influence the public. Today most American corporations rely on their public relations teams for strategic counsel, and PR executives often provide guidance to senior management on ethics. According to findings from a recent study, many PR professionals often espouse ideas for the public interest even when they are at odds with management views or not aligned with business interests.

Yes Man

The study, “Exploring Questions of Media Morality,” published in the Journal of Mass Media Ethics, drew on in-depth interviews with senior public relations professionals who had held top positions at corporations, nonprofits and government organizations. Most of those interviewed viewed themselves as an “independent voice” in the organization they worked for, and not “mired by its perspective or politics,” explained study author, Marlene Neill, Ph.D., of Baylor University.

There are obvious limitations to the study. The sample size of those interviewed was only 30 people, and it’s hard to draw sweeping conclusions from self-reported data (most of us probably like to think that we are ethical professionals). Nevertheless, the fact that PR professionals are embracing their role as the “organizational conscience” is a good indicator that these professionals are at least getting a seat at the table to give their input on ethical decisions.

It also suggests that these professionals are keeping their ears to the ground to monitor public sentiment about issues that could impact their companies. For these companies, PR is more than awareness-building; it is relationship management, which requires two-way communication between the company and its publics. While it may be hard to quantify the financial value of relationship management, we can assume that it’s far cheaper than the cost of crisis management for poor ethical decisions and the potential for downstream damage to the company’s reputation.

There will always be differences between individual companies in the function of public relations, but as one respondent in the study commented, “the ‘yes man’ has no value” in PR.” To be truly valued by their companies, PR professionals must have an independent voice, even when it means going against the grain sometimes by questioning the decisions of higher-ups. This can be a risky proposition. It can expose PR professionals to a “kill the messenger” mindset, and potentially put strain on their relationships with their bosses and the company’s senior management, but it is a risk worth taking.

What are your thoughts? Can public relations provide a moral compass for the executive suite while also looking out for the commercial interests of the business?

 

Jacob Seal

Ask Not What the Media Can Do for You, Ask What You Can Do for the Media

February 13, 2013

Unfortunately, most emerging companies have approached public relations as little more than an extension of their sales promotion efforts, narrowly focusing their messaging on attributes of their products or services with the expectation that reporters will spread the word to the masses. At best, this approach usually yields a limited number of media placements originating around a product launch. At worst, reporters will view the announcements as editorialized sales pitches and discard them. Then comes the inevitable question from the corporate brass: “What value are we getting from that PR budget?”

kennedy

This scenario often could be averted if the question were turned around: “What value can the media get from our company?” Marketing professionals should appreciate this question—they are accustomed to defining value for potential customers, but reporters are not potential customers. Their needs are completely different.

To effectively engage reporters, it is important to understand how they evaluate information. Their raison d’être is to uncover what’s “newsworthy” to their specific audiences and to report this information in an easy-to-understand format. Thus, for a company’s message to resonate with a reporter it must be perceived to have a certain quality of newsworthiness.

Newsworthiness is a very abstract concept. It differs from company to company. A management change at a large conglomerate, for example, would be considered more newsworthy than a similar change at a startup. It also differs from reporter to reporter. Trade reporters, for instance, view newsworthiness through a narrow lens focused on a specific industry, while reporters with general business and consumer media often (not always) view newsworthiness through a broader lens focused on major social, economic or technological trends.

We’re at a time when major brands seem to wield more and more media influence, and reporters are becoming more and more immune to unsolicited story pitches. So how can a startup company demonstrate newsworthiness in such a tough climate?

The key is to start developing a PR plan early. It’s not uncommon for startups to focus their early-stage efforts on building out core business functions, such as sales channels, product development, logistics and other back office functions, putting off PR until the product launch approaches. This is understandable—resources are always an issue, and expenditures and staff time have to be prioritized. We also understand the competitive reasons for some companies to operate in “stealth mode” until they’re ready to launch sales. However, postponing PR planning until a month or two before going to market can seriously limit the company’s opportunities to drive greater visibility and lead to pitfalls that could have been avoided with proper planning.

As you begin crafting your PR plan, a key component is to identify story angles that will interest the media. This involves brainstorming with your management team and PR advisors to collect pertinent information about your company and its founders that is often scattered across many minds, and identifying the facets that could be used to create compelling story angles. Significant product news creates potential angles, as well as any anticipated milestones (e.g., acquisition of new management, new external partnerships, new funding, etc.). These events may offer good opportunities for exposure in some media outlets, with the highest potential usually being in trade and business media.

But there is no reason to limit the company’s story angles to these business events. PR planning is a creative process that requires you and your PR advisors to look beyond the obvious characteristics of your business to discover other aspects that could distinguish you from the flock. A great example of a company that has succeeded at this is Ben & Jerry’s. The company has been able to command media interest at will. Its products, however, are rarely what grab the headlines. Rather, much of the media coverage has focused on the company’s eccentricities: its unconventional founding (it was originally conceived as a bagel shop), its offbeat management practices (e.g. its erstwhile salary ratio policy) and its reputation as a champion of social issues.

Admittedly, the comparison between the media strategy of an emerging IT or biotech company with that of Ben & Jerry’s is tenuous, but there are opportunities for most companies to seize the limelight in unconventional ways if they try. Before they became iconic brands, companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Groupon and Flickr were successful at this, getting attention for quirks in their corporate cultures,  business models, operational development or founders’ stories.

The bottom line is, in order for your company to derive value from its media strategy, it has to first prove its value (i.e. newsworthiness) to the media. The art of PR is storytelling: mining the various facets of your business to uncover what sets it apart—its newsworthiness—and packaging that information into compelling story angles to engage the media.

Jacob Seal

9 Things Journalists Do & Do NOT Find Newsworthy

November 15, 2012

One of the most difficult parts of my job is to explain to a client why the announcement the company’s CEO wants us to make isn’t news and is unlikely to be covered by the media.

Here are a few examples of what journalists don’t find worth covering but companies frequently want them to cover:

  1. News that has already been announced and reported in the media is no longer news and will not capture journalists’ attention.
  2. The activities of a small privately-held company are usually not considered newsworthy to the national business media. We are often successful in getting start-up company clients covered by the media despite this, but the way we do it is to de-emphasize the company and pitch its activities as part of a new trend, or to demonstrate that it is developing earthshaking new technologies, or to position it as a threat to large and well-established companies, or to offer the CEO as an expert who has the credentials to comment on something currently in the news.
  3. Just because something is an important issue does not mean it is newsworthy, as Brad Phillips points out on his blog, Mr. Media Training.  For example, the growing number of parents who choose not to vaccinate their children is an alarming trend and an important issue. But it’s been written about from various angles for a number of years, and isn’t newsworthy.  An outbreak of a devastating disease like polio in the U.S. resulting from this trend, previously believed to have been eliminated from this country, would be newsworthy.
  4. The visit of a company CEO from abroad is not newsworthy unless the company has major business interests in the U.S., or has an announcement to make that will affect Americans. This is a situation we sometimes face. We are asked to set up a round of business media interviews for the visiting head of an overseas client company. Even if the company is fairly sizable and well-known in its own market, without a real presence in the U.S., journalists won’t have much interest. However, if the company president gives reporters news (that hasn’t already been announced) about a new plan to build a plant in the U.S., for example, or a new partnership with an American company, they’ll be very interested.

What’s Newsworthy, What’s Not

  1. Conflict is newsworthy, especially when it first appears. Peace and harmony are not, except for the exact time when they bring an end to conflict.
  1. Scandal is newsworthy. The juicier the better from the media’s perspective. Awards for good behavior are not.
  1. Surprises are newsworthy. Expected outcomes are not. The media give more time and space to a company that misses or greatly surpasses earnings projections than to a company that meets earnings projections.
  1. Lies are newsworthy (or rather, catching well-known or high-up people in lies is newsworthy)
  1. Announcements that have local impact are newsworthy for local media outlets. In many cases the definition of local is very narrow. Recently we approached news outlets in various Connecticut towns about the debut of a national company in the Connecticut market. Most of the media we spoke to at the small town news organizations told us they would only cover news related specifically to their own towns.

It’s natural to feel that the activities of the company you work for are important and to lose perspective on whether they’re of interest to the rest of the world. One of the advantages of working with a public relations firm is the more objective perspective that the agency PR team can bring to a company.

We’re paid to advise clients and develop workable strategies for their public relations efforts. It’s always a better use of our services and a client’s budget to ask us how to reach a particular goal rather than tell us what tactics to take to achieve that goal. Our collective years of PR, journalism and marketing communications experience will save a lot of money by preventing wasted efforts to build visibility!

Lucy Siegel

When the Apple Falls Far from the Tree

November 2, 2012

On Monday, Apple announced the firing Senior VP of iOS Software, Scott Forstall, for refusing to sign a public letter apologizing for Apple’s faulty Mobile Maps. Forstall’s team was responsible for the app, which replaced Google Maps on the iPhone 5. It drew a storm of criticism as soon as it launched; it was so bad many even claimed it posed a danger to drivers using it. Just a week later, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook issued a public apology, suggesting that customers try out competitors’ map apps for the time being. The Maps fiasco was just the latest in a string of Apple failures since Steve Jobs’ death last fall, causing many to question the future of the most valuable company of all time. Just days after Jobs’ death, Apple launched the iPhone 4S with Siri, a new personal assistant app with voice recognition.  Siri has not lived up to its hype.

With Mobile Maps, Apple clearly made a mistake launching a faulty product. Still, what was even more abhorrent was Forstall’s refusal to apologize for it. A basic rule in handling a crisis is that when a company (or individual) makes a mistake, they need to apologize, fast. During  college, when I was a server at a chain restaurant, an acronym our management gave us for handling any and all guest complaints was L.A.S.T: Listen, Apologize, Solve, Thank. We smoothed over the vast majority of problems by simply listening to the complaint, offering a sincere apology, rectifying the situation and thanking the customer for continued patronage. This applies to more than just customer service, it makes the difference between good PR and bad PR.

In contrast, Amazon stands as a shining example of how great PR can allow a company to launch even a faulty product successfully. When Amazon debuted the latest Kindle reader, Paperwhite, the company put a clear disclaimer on the Amazon homepage explaining various shortcomings of the product compared to previous models. This undoubtedly avoided a lot of negative backlash.

An air of secrecy has long been a defining part of Apple’s brand.  Under Steve Jobs, secrecy added to the brand’s exclusive allure.  However, Apple won’t be able to continue releasing inferior products at luxury prices, only to offer half-hearted apologies later on. A recent study found that for the first time ever, the percentage of iPhone owners who plan on buying another Apple phone has declined. In our ever-evolving media landscape, transparency is more important than ever. Hopefully, Cook’s new executive management team will learn from the mistakes of their predecessors.

Diana Kim

Advance Approval of Interview Quotes: a Self-Destructive Media Policy

September 19, 2012

We’ve all been there: despite training and practice, the CEO blows a good media coverage opportunity by saying the wrong thing to a reporter, and neglects to say what should have been said to communicate the company’s key messages. We all want to see the best possible media portrayal of our companies, or clients’ companies, and there are times we’d love to rewind the interview to answer differently.

We’re finding out that within the political realm, this is indeed possible. It came out this summer that the staffs of both Presidential candidates have refused to grant media interviews with the candidates, their wives and their key aides unless the media outlet would agree to submitting the quotes used from the interview to the campaign staff for approval. Big influential media outlets like the New York Times have been acceding to this demand.

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This practice clearly undermines the quality of the reporting by allowing the campaign staff to sanitize remarks made in interviews by changing quotes to make them more vague and less likely to offend anyone. Never mind that the quote reflected what the person actually said. The purpose of checking the quotes goes way beyond simple fact-checking; it’s aimed at damage control.

Quote approval gives the candidates the power to use the media to shape public perception.  The media play an important role in a democracy as independent third-party voices reporting the facts as objectively as possible. Allowing the candidates to control the reporting to the extent that they can take back what they said weakens the veracity of the reporting.

The cat is out of the bag. Some major media outlets readily admitted that reporters have been allowing quote checking (and alteration) by campaign staffers as a condition for obtaining an interview. Readers who are paying attention and now realize this is happening are bound to have less trust in the media.

This morning I attended a meeting where Bob DeFillippo, Chief Communications Officer at Prudential Financial, spoke about the ways social media has played a role in blurring the lines among earned media (i.e., what is reported by independent news organizations), paid media (i.e., advertising, and paid editorial coverage, often called “advertorial,” which is not earned media but advertising) and owned media (i.e., content that companies create and disseminate themselves, which is neither earned nor paid media). He pointed out that the definitions of the three are becoming more blurred every day, and commented that we need to respect the definitions, not contribute to changing them, because earned media plays such a significant role in building corporate credibility.

He concluded that it’s in the interest of PR people to safeguard the integrity of earned media in order to protect the powerful contribution it can make towards reputation-building. I totally agree with him.

There are many reasons for the blurring of the lines among paid, earned and owned media, not just the proliferation of social media. For example, “pay for play” media coverage – where a publication insists that an organization be an advertiser in order to receive any editorial coverage – is more and more common these days, unfortunately, due to the desperate financial straits many media companies find themselves in. My firm advises clients to stay far away from “pay for play” media situations.

It’s the responsibility of public relations professionals to prepare clients well for media interviews. Sometimes despite our best efforts to do this, clients aren’t portrayed the way we would like them to be in an interview. The solution is not to insist on the right to see and change their quotes. It is certainly not better to rely on “pay for play” media. We just need to see to it that clients get as many media opportunities as possible so that one media mishap doesn’t play a major role in defining the client’s reputation.

Lucy Siegel

The Challenges of Cross-Cultural Communications

August 31, 2012

Many of our clients are companies headquartered outside the United States. As a result, cross-cultural communications is a very important component of Bridge Global Strategies’ client services. In the following post, Bhaskar Sarma does a great job of explaining the impact of culture in communications and providing examples. His guest post, which first appeared on Gini Dietrich’s blog, “Spinsucks,” appears here with his permission and  permission from Gini Dietrich.  

By Bhaskar Sarma

In 1969 and 1970, a large part of Iraq was hit by a severe drought and famine causing a shortage of wheat.

With seed reserves running low, the Iraqi government imported nearly one hundred thousand tons of high yielding Mexipak wheat from Mexico and the United States.

The wheat, however, was laced with a fungicide called methylmercury, which was to prevent spoilage during shipping.

Methylmercury is a nasty chemical and can damage the central nervous system of humans and animals. It causes symptoms such as paralysis, brain damage, and blindness. In higher doses, it can be fatal.

Anatomy of a Disaster

All the bags in that shipment were stamped with clear instructions on how to handle the lethal contents. To underline the dangers, the suppliers even emblazoned a skull and crossbones on each bag.

That should have be enough, right?  It wasn’t.

  • The warnings were in Spanish and English – pure gobbledygook to an average Iraqi villager.
  • The skull and crossbones meant the same thing to them as a QR code means to human eyes.
  • The wheat arrived too late in the planting season to be of any use, but was distributed to the farmers anyway.

With their previous stock of wheat planted, thousands of villagers who had no clue about the toxicity of the foreign wheat, used it as food and feed.

And within a month, disaster struck.

I won’t get into the gory details but the Iraqi incident was one of history’s largest cases of mass mercury poisoning.

And to think all this could have been averted if they had added a line in Arabic.

Challenges of Cross-Cultural Communication

Here’s another, less darker take on the cross-cultural communication.

A soda marketer was glumly sitting at the bar. His friend approaches and asks, “Why so serious?”

He replies, “I created this left to right comic strip for a campaign. It showed a famished man crawling across the desert who finds a bottle of soda, chugs it down, and walks away with a cheerful smile. Sales tanked after it ran in the Middle East.”

“Why?”

“Everyone read it from right to left!”

Avoid Cross-Cultural Miscommunication

While the Internet ensures your products and services can be sold all over the world, it does not make your customers and prospects react to your message in lockstep.

If you are selling to multiple countries or cultures consider the following:

  • Have localized versions of your website (if you have the resources). Don’t just have a literal, word-by-word translation of the copy from English to, say, German.
  • If you can’t afford multiple versions of collateral, avoid slang and clichés. It gets lost in translation.
  • Pay particular attention to your marketing channels. For instance, streaming video won’t be a hit in large parts of Asia and Africa where Internet speeds suck.
  • Subject lines in emails that might be marked as spam in the West could get a higher response rate in Asia. Experiment and test.

Conclusion

Cross-cultural miscommunication can have far reaching consequences. It was one of the reasons Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. It was also a major reason why the Israeli Army was beaten back by the Hezbollah  in 2006.

Do you have any “lost in translation” war stories? What would be your prescription to avoid such situations?

Bhaskar Sarma is a B2B tech copywriter and content marketer. He blogs at Pixels and Clicks and helps his clients create content that establishes them as a trusted solution provider. You can follow him on Twitter at bhas.

Five Key Lessons We Can Learn from Mike Wallace

April 10, 2012

In May, 2005, I had the pleasure of sitting in the audience when Mike Wallace took the podium as keynote speaker at the annual “Big Apple” awards celebration of the Public Relations Society of America – New York Chapter. Then 87 or 88 years old, he must have been the oldest speaker PRSA-NY had ever had. You could hear a pin drop as he spoke.

In the public relations industry, Mike Wallace was one of the most respected and at the same time, most feared journalists ever. He could reduce public figures to blubbering idiots with just one simple question.  Even the rumor that Mike Wallace had a research crew investigating a company was enough to send executives and PR departments into a tailspin. ABC News’s George Stephanopolis commented that Wallace became more famous than most of his subjects by mastering the “in your face” interview. ABC News reporter John Donovan, in a story about Wallace, noted that Wallace “had a gift for making the unaskable askable.” Just one example: he had the nerve to ask Nancy Reagan how much President Ronald Reagan got paid for visiting Japan after he left office.

Much has been written about this legend of TV journalism in the last few days, but from a PR perspective, the best piece I’ve read was by Larry Thomas, president of Latergy, a video services firm. I direct you to his article in a communications industry publication CommPRO.biz, “Remembering Mike Wallace: Lessons from a Master Interviewer,” which summarizes the influence Wallace had into five key lessons for public relations, corporate communications and investor relations professionals .  Thomas ends his blog by saying, “RIP, Mr. Wallace. I’m glad I was able to see you (on TV, not at my office door).”  I can certainly echo that.

Lucy Siegel

Media Pay for Play: a Bad, Old Practice Lives On

April 2, 2012

Today I stumbled across an online discussion in a LinkedIn marketing group about what we in the PR industry call “pay for play,” or the requirement that a company pay for an ad or sponsorship in order to be included in editorial coverage. The discussion was started by an associate publisher at a trade magazine company (read here “ad sales executive”).

He wrote, “Over the last few years PR firms have become increasingly aggressive in pushing editorial ‘collaborations’ for their clients, many of whom are nowhere to be seen from a publication advertising support perspective!”  His message:  companies that don’t advertise in a particular publication shouldn’t expect to be covered unless what they’re offering is groundbreaking news. Implied in his statement was that advertisers do deserve the  right to be covered, whether or not they have anything newsworthy or of interest to say.

As a PR firm owner and practitioner with many years of experience, preceded by journalism experience (both newspaper and trade media), I maintain that journalists  have no obligation to cover anyone – advertisers or non-advertisers. The only obligation they have is to inform their readers/viewers in an honest and timely way. If this means they end up not covering an advertiser because the company has nothing worthwhile to communicate, then so be it. If the advertiser doesn’t like this, there are always other media to advertise in.

Non-advertisers deserve the same balanced editorial coverage as advertisers.

It’s our policy as an agency to decline pay for play offers.  Sometimes a media outlet will approach a client directly and offer the opportunity to be included in a special issue of a magazine, or to be interviewed by a news broadcaster, or take part in a film, if the client would just pay a certain amount to “cover expenses.” On a few occasions clients have been tempted by these offers.  Generally, a little research on the publication or TV production company has demonstrated that the offer isn’t the great opportunity it was cracked up to be.

A couple of years ago, one of our clients received a call offering an interview on national TV, “Inside Business,” with Fred Thompson, the Republican politician, columnist and radio host. Our client was told there would be a fee of about $20,000 to cover the production company’s costs, but still thought this would bring some valuable visibility. We did some looking around online and found websites with discussions from other businesses that had taken the bait and were bitterly disappointed and angry at the outcome. Their biggest complaint was usually about the distribution of the video that was produced. Their interviews were aired at some ungodly hour when nobody would be watching TV – say, 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning. When we showed our client these discussions, he thanked us for stopping him from wasting his company’s money.

Years ago when I was a journalist I fought with publishers who constantly pushed the editorial staff to cover advertisers. The battle between advertising and editorial has only intensified over the years as both ad revenue and readership have declined, bringing tough financial times for many media companies.  However, good, balanced journalism is what attracts readers and builds circulation, not pandering to advertisers or demanding quid pro quo for media coverage.

It’s the job of the PR professional to understand and counsel clients about what’s news and what’s not. If a company hires a PR agency to “get ink” and yet has nothing special to offer the media, it’s the agency’s responsibility to manage the client’s expectations while seeking news nuggets and finding innovative ways to create news, if necessary. Let’s be clear: pay for play is not media coverage, it’s advertising.

Lucy Siegel

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