Any press is not always good press, but it may pay dividends down the road

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By Leo Valiquette

Business and trade press journalists regularly find themselves in the position of needing owners or executives who are willing to talk about specific issues in their industries and how their businesses have dealt with them.

For a PR practitioner it’s the classic dilemma – the goal is to drive earned coverage of a client’s story (as opposed to paying for an ad) when many of the media who are receptive may have a different agenda in mind. Hard-nosed and busy executives often brush off interview opportunities if they feel that the nature of the story will not provide a clear and obvious promotional advantage for their organization. “Why should I talk to this reporter about X when that doesn’t highlight the value proposition of my business?” they ask.

This is certainly a valid concern, but as we counsel clients of our inmedia public relations practice, if you want full control over how your story gets told, you will have to pay for the privilege—that’s just the way it is. On the other hand, ceding that control to an ethical and independent journalist has one significant benefit—earned media coverage is typically viewed by readers as more credible.

I recently experienced this first hand when I wrote “a sponsored feature” on intellectual property issues for early-stage tech companies. I quoted principals from two different professional services firms that specialize in IP matters. Why these two specific firms? Simple. They had ponied up the cash to advertise in the feature. However, if they had not been advertisers, I would have still considered them choice interview subjects solely on the merits of their experience and expertise.

A few weeks after that article was published, I ran into a serial entrepreneur at a local networking event. He told me how useful and informative he found the article to be as a business owner with IP to manage… until he reached the end of it and saw that damning label, “sponsored feature.” He told me how disappointed he was and how (in his mind) this invalidated what he had just read.

Huh?

It was hardly a rational or logical reaction as far as I was concerned. Nonetheless, there it was.

What’s the moral of this story? Earned and paid coverage opportunities each have their pros and cons. More importantly, the target audience may have preconceived notions about one versus the other. Whether they have a legitimate cause for such a bias is beside the point. It’s a bias that exists and shouldn’t be discounted when deciding how best to focus your PR and marketing resources. My advice is, if you are chasing paid, rather than earned, content marketing opportunities such as that IP article I wrote, make damned certain that the content focuses on providing real value to readers rather than on selfishly singing your own praises. Save blatant self-promotion for the traditional display or banner ad (and even then, less is more, but that’s a different post).

Which brings us back to my opening point about being standoffish when journalists come knocking. There is certainly a difference between getting just a one-sentence sound bite of coverage versus several paragraphs that focus on your expertise and that of your business. But neither can you focus exclusively on the immediate, transactional nature of what a journalist is looking for today. The emphasis must always be on laying the groundwork for a long-term and mutually beneficial relationship. Is there an opportunity to make yourself known as a useful and readily accessible resource that journalist will want to call on again? We call this building your “rolodex factor” and I’m not talking about a brand of wristwatch.

At a time when newsrooms have been cut back and journalists have the added tasks of blogging and tweeting, presenting yourself as a helpful resource willing to look past your own agenda can leave a positive and lasting impression. Next week, I’ll talk more about how you can do this.

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