Why Are People Still Overvaluing Media Coverage?

A few weeks ago, I saw a video posted on Facebook of a conversation between the president of a PR agency and the head of another PR agency who just published a book. That book is supposedly about PR given the title, but after hearing them discuss it, it’s really only about media relations and media coverage.

The video caught my eye because the perspectives of both seemed so out of touch with how PR and marketing is done today.

The book author published the book because, to summarize him, he didn’t like a lot of what he's seen written about PR lately: “fantasy” situations where “magic” happens - just post something once on Facebook or Twitter and everything happens. The other agency president then chimed in with a sarcastic, sing-songy, “alllll the leads are going to come in”. The author went on to say that most of today’s PR advice overlooks the value of traditional media coverage.

Later the author gave an example of a client who just received coverage in the Wall Street Journal. He said it took four months of stop and start conversations with the reporter until the article was finally published (which is typical). He added that if during that same time period you’re tweeting or Facebooking, it won’t have 1/10 of 1% the impact of a WSJ article. He attributed the impact of media coverage to the credibility that comes with being covered by a big outlet.

My jaw nearly hit the desk after hearing this take. There are really still people out there who think this way? I thought the overvaluation of media coverage is something we’d gotten away from. Impact? Actual sales can now be tracked directly to social media activities. The same can't be said for coverage in the WSJ. Which is more impactful? I'd say in most cases it's what can be linked to sales very directly.

Media coverage does have impact. At times it can convey credibility, but the ironic part of the book author’s statement on credibility is he went on to say that the biggest factor to getting mainstream coverage is having relationships with reporters. He said the best product, technology, or story isn’t what gets coverage. It’s the PR person-reporter relationship. So….is that what we’re calling credibility? Because that doesn't scream credible article and analysis to me.

Who do you look at as credible? Twenty years ago people put a lot of credibility in big media, but today many look more credibly at the people they’re connected to online, many of whom actually work in the field they write about on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Medium. If you’re researching a product, how often do you search for media coverage of the product? You’re more likely looking online for user reviews and commentary. Would a mention of a product in the Boston Globe cause you to buy something or tell someone about it more than if you saw two friends mention it on Facebook?

Often times media coverage only has vanity impact. The executive team and PR team get to brag about their article in the WSJ, but the prospective customers often don't actually read the WSJ. They might be reading a smaller trade website, or following a LinkedIn Group, or following influential people on Instagram. What’s more important than getting coverage is who sees the coverage.

This is why when we work with clients, we develop a good understanding of the audience they’re trying to reach and their ultimate objective. If that objective is focused on immediate sales, a media relations campaign won’t help much. A social media campaign can though. So could an influencer marketing campaign.

There’s a time and place for traditional media relations, and it does have value, but it’s not the end all, be all. And your marketing communications team (or PR agency) should realize that. It’s important to work with people who understand how marketing aligns with business and who are able to develop strategies accordingly.

-Kevin

Kevin York