Dunn Blog I: Public Relations 1.0


There’s a difference between PR and marketing, writes Patricia Dunn, and only one will get you free media coverage.

If the hit TV series Mad Men distills the essence of advertising with its paid-in-full product promotion, free media coverage is the goal of public relations. This so-called “earned editorial” means the profile and reputation of a commodity (animal, mineral or vegetable) is enhanced through positive news coverage.
PR is coveted because media coverage is thought to be worth four to five times the value of advertising. Endorsement by a journalist is independent, and therefore more valuable.
At the same time, the total budget for a PR campaign is generally less expensive than advertising. Consequently, the economic downturn has accelerated a trend towards businesses reducing their traditional advertising and marketing budgets, and turning to PR.
But is one a replacement for the other? Not necessarily. You can buy advertising (unless you are a cigarette company), but you cannot buy media coverage. With advertising, the advertiser controls the message and where it appears. With media coverage, the journalist is in control, deciding what story to tell and how to present it.
Unlike advertisements, media stories must be based on reality rather than rhetoric. For example, when the B.C. government markets the province as “the Best Place on Earth” in advertising and on license plates, it is not required to offer proof. But when The Economist calls Vancouver the “most livable city in the world,” it supports its judgment with facts. If you are promoting Vancouver, you can tie in your own news (the launch of a condo project, say), with the news hook kindly donated by The Economist.

So, to get media attention, information about you or your product must be current (there’s a reason they call it “news”) and it must be relevant to the media’s audience. For example, the lifestyle editor at the Daily Planet isn’t going to be interested in your patio umbrellas in December. However, that same editor might be interested in hearing about your line of Christmas décor for the home. And the real estate editor may welcome an email about your ski hill development – but not about the 100 waterfront acres for sale in the Shuswap. Winter is the wrong season to promote summer recreation properties, so your Shuswap acreage is not timely or relevant to their audience.
This is where PR experience is helpful. The best PR consultants have a media background, so they understand what the media need and how to present a client’s story in a way that works for both parties. They also keep in touch with media contacts to find out what stories are in the works. PR is both about who you know and what you know.
For some savvy businesspeople (with lots of time on their hands; we all know plenty of those), PR can be DIY. That said, probably the most effective PR path is to engage a communications professional to help develop a strategy. Set yourself a budget and some realistic goals, spend time downloading information about your business and what you have to sell. Then share that information with your PR professional: the greater the communication between you, the greater your chance of editorial success.

Next post: What’s the hook? Defining a news story.