Distinguishing between adverts and articles is the first step towards really ‘getting’ PR. The next is to understand why organisations spend thousands, even millions of pounds a year on PR, sometimes replacing advertising budgets entirely, in pursuit of positive media coverage. How does this benefit them?
There are various reasons for seeking media coverage, but the two major driving factors are that coverage builds trust and awareness. People tend to trust and absorb more from the publications they read, or the programmes they follow and that trust rubs off on those people or organisations that are associated with them. Trusted brands sell, making for successful businesses – one need look no further than the effects of the Chinese baby milk scandal on the industry to understand how important trust is.
In this post, I look at why executives want to see their companies on the front pages.
It supports new business activity
There are many celebrated examples of how an article in a paper or an interview on breakfast TV has led hoards of people to contact the company involved and place orders. It is every PR professional’s dream, and if an agency gets a result along those lines they will brag about it on their website or in new business pitches for the next decade.
However, while this is an excellent achievement, I have to emphasize that PR on its own is not typically an efficient new business tool. This is partly because it is impossible to measure accurately the extent to which people are influenced by an article they have read or a news item they have watched or heard. Some might respond by heading straight to the company’s website, others might decide to look it up on Google (in which case an optimised website is very useful), and others might do nothing for months until they hear a friend talking about the subject, in which case they would interject and recommend the product or service. The benefits are cumulative and tend to be less tangible than advertising, which is measured in calls to action such as the number of click-throughs or use of voucher codes.
However, for an organisation that has an established new business development strategy, PR is invaluable. Sales teams find it easier to get a foot in the door if the brand is already known to the prospect.
Consider a situation where you are planning to pitch for a new client. Chances are that the prospect will Google you ahead of your first meeting, and what better way to gain pre-pitch respect than with a comment in FT.com (which is probably better optimised on Google search rankings than your own site) about their industry?
Or if your business has slipped off a prospect’s radar, then a comment by your very self in an article about their industry in a national paper, or the sight of you on the BBC Breakfast sofa will surely jog their memory?
It is very clear that any new business strategy is vastly enhanced by regular, positive media coverage of that organisation.
It boosts search rankings
If your PR machine is good enough to get a hyperlink to your website from an online article (they should be congratulated for this), this is an important contributor to optimising your site. Again, PR cannot replace SEO entirely (as that requires all sorts of HTML skills that are better left to the experts), but it is a fantastic addition any website traffic generation strategy and your SEO team will be delighted to know you are working on gaining quality links – as they will simply not have the skills to get you links of this calibre (online news editors do not like receiving calls from SEO experts asking for reciprocal links. However, if you happen to have provided a great news story, by-liner or contribution to a feature article, they are much more receptive to a call from a PR asking for a backlink within the piece).
Optimisation aside, it’s great to have articles about your organisation populate page one of search results (after your own website of course) and for these to be associated with trusted, independent publications makes this even more valuable.
It differentiates from competitors
PR is a great way to differentiate your brand or organisation from competitors. This is best achieved when a company or chief executive agrees to take a position on a single issue and focus their media relations activity around that issue. Take for example a client of mine called Study Group, a company that provides UK-based preparation courses for international students looking to attend British universities. Over the last four years, my team has worked tirelessly with Study Group to respond to proposed government changes to the student visa system, making it harder for overseas students to access our higher education system. Our work has placed Study Group ahead of its main competitors in terms of media coverage (we’ve achieved hundreds of pieces of coverage, reaching tens of millions of people, and netted two awards in the process), tirelessly fighting the corner of the genuine international student. This image of the company has helped to position Study Group as a market leader, and in many instances, has made it the first choice provider for non-EU students.
It supports an exit strategy
I’ve worked with a number of founders who are looking to raise the profile of the business as a leader in its industry with the ultimate aim of attracting investment. To find investors or buyers they need to build awareness and credibility and they understand that PR is truly the best way in which to do this. Positive coverage not only helps to attract investors, but it also highlights the future value of the business to the investment community.
It increases perception of size
It’s fair to say that large organisations get the lion’s share of the media coverage. While this is very frustrating for an SME, the flip-side is that when the smaller company does get that prime comment on a front page article, the automatic perception is that the organisation is larger than it is. For some businesses, this is a real draw card.
It helps companies explain complex concepts
If your message is complex, you have the option of a long and detailed advertisement with lots of content, but the likelihood of anyone reading, watching, or listening to the whole thing is pretty slim. But if you can get the same message across in the content of an article, blog post or interview, the chances of conveying that message are pretty high. Think of it from the perspective of the audience: would you read a 700 word advertisement detailing the benefits of a piece of French language-learning software? Unlikely. But, you are surely far more likely to read an article comparing language teaching methods and highlighting the benefits of software over others.
If your brand or product faces the major obstacle of a public misconception, the right media coverage can help to address this, by subtly changing associations and messaging, or outright dispelling these myths in interviews or comment.
I hope I have convinced you that media coverage is important, and highly valuable with this very basic outline of why organisations want coverage. Of course not all coverage serves all of these goals, and the most successful PR strategies are those that work towards defined objectives.