Monday, September 12, 2005

Positioning PR for Maximum Results

I am amazed at how much business people expect from public relations. But I suspect that the overblown expectations which usually follow from the injunction “let’s get some PR on this” have more to do with tight budgets than realistic marketing strategy.

PR is an incredibly competitive sport. Each day thousands of story ideas compete for space and time in hundreds of trusted media outlets. The best PR people know how to frame the story, how to craft the pitch and exactly who to talk to. And even the best practitioners have to compete with wars, hurricanes, elections, coups, Wall Street, Congress, court decisions and other stories considered competitive hard news topics by the dominant media which can easily shift the news agenda and overturn all previous plans or promises.

PR, as opposed to advertising, carries the implied third party endorsement of the medium in which it appears. Most people, even skeptical, media savvy people, believe that “If the Times prints it, it must be true.” And yet this added credibility is never as strong as a paid call to action.

Another aspect is the trade-off between endorsement and editorial control. In a typical PR placement, an editor or a producer makes a decision on what to say, how to say it, how much or who to include and what to exclude. In fact, as a point of pride and to illustrate the distinction between editorial and advertising, it is rare for newspapers or TV stations to print or air prices or contact information.

As a result, people reading or viewing a story about an event, a concert, a performer or a product are much less likely to pick up the phone, type in a URL or initiate a Google search than those who see an ad asking them explicitly to take these actions.

Marketers fantasizing that a PR campaign by itself will sell out a theater, empty a warehouse or drive traffic to 800 numbers or websites are kidding themselves. PR, like brand advertising, builds awareness, creates a buzz and begins the demand generation process. But rarely will PR alone play the role of direct response advertising.

If you don’t target your most likely audience and communicate with them directly by making an offer, you are wasting your PR effort. PR combined with well placed; controlled messages with clear calls to action are a “best practices” formula for success. Anything less is wishful thinking.


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10:13 PM  

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