With the benefit of hindsight

27 Mar

The question came via Twitter from a thoughtful student: 'Why do PR professionals still prioritise print coverage over online?'

Sean's question

It's a good question. Assuming they do – and with the exception of a few social media specialists it probably is true – then there are several likely explanations:

  • Print is tangible, and thus has a higher perceived value than online (or broadcast even)
  • Practitioners do what they know best (and avoid the risky and the uncertain)
  • Clients and bosses demand and expect it

I then asked myself a different question. Knowing what I now know, would I have practised differently back then in the bad old days before the web and social media rose to prominence?

I should have focused more on outcomes, not outputs (attendance at events, press coverage). But this would have meant turning away business. I recall the look I had from my consultancy managing director when, in a meeting with a potential new client, I asked 'what do you want press coverage for?'

I wish I'd focused more on finding the issue than promoting the product or service. Again, this would have meant turning down some easy hits in the media for a more sustainable strategy. We did try (and we knew we should), but sometimes the low hanging fruit was just too easy to pick…

What's interesting is to note how little has changed. These two should still be high on the wish list of current practitioners wanting to avoid obsolescence. Focus on the outcomes; and develop an issues-led approach. Otherwise what value are you adding, and what's to differentiate your advice from anyone else's?

5 Responses to “With the benefit of hindsight”

  1. David Phillips 27/03/2011 at 8:34 pm #

    Hmmm… or is this a lack of professional engagement.
    I am not suggesting that print,or at least professional journalism, is not hugely important. It is. It remains a mainstream or opinion and information exchange across many media on and off line.
    But in PR (and marketing) the lack of professional and practice bandwidth and an ability to cover the range of affective media is disappointing. Worse, there is no curiosity.
    Last week, I asked a group of marketing mangers if they monitored Social Media. The answer was that if they did not use it, they did not monitor it. Thus channels like Twitter, Facebook or YouTube would not be monitored if it was not used. Worse, was the lack of concern that their stakeholder may be trying to talk to their organisation through such channels.
    I must have let the mast slip. The admissions then came with a lot of excuses. Not one was convincing to either me or their colleagues. It was a BIG revelation to them all.
    Time to step up to the mark.

  2. Penny 28/03/2011 at 12:10 pm #

    Couldn’t agree more about which is more important in the outcomes/outputs split. It’s undoubtedly the case, though, that outputs are easier to quantify – and thus charge for. Outcomes may take years to become clear – especially if you’re campaigning on social or behaviour change projects. Clients with the patience to back long-term strategy above the appearance of short-term gain can be few and far between.

  3. Sean Ball 31/03/2011 at 3:24 pm #

    It’s very interesting and exciting to watch the debates surrounding the changing world of PR while being a novice PR student still getting grips with the complexities of what PR is really all about.
    Print coverage is of course still relevant and depending on the client, the most valuable tactic in any strategy.
    Although the USP of ‘New PR’ and the use of new technology and social mediums is the lack of censorship and gatekeeping from journalists, which provides a lot more room for creativity and ingenuity.
    Moreover, it levels the playing field for those practitioners who might not have the handy contacts and relationships in the media world that some ex-journalist PROs do.

  4. Iain MacKenzie 03/04/2011 at 9:17 am #

    Would you agree that *any* Consulting is better able to add value if the Consultants know the desired outcomes? Otherwise it becomes “I’m not sure what you want to achieve, but if you do it will increase MY bank balance”?
    I understand the comments about low hanging fruit, and how would you say that relates (if at all) to the fiduciary duty of the consultant? For the record I note that your comments were past tense.

  5. catherine sweet 04/04/2011 at 12:13 pm #

    AH, the perennial debate about media relations! I have been known to be rude to clients (and yes, it has hit my bank balance but not my conscience) when they push for “column inches”. Too much of agency PR is pandering to a client’s vanity. ex journos in PR are more than happy to satisfy the clients wanting to see their name in the print that they and their friends read. Whether that leads to any solid business outcome is debatable.
    I look instead for the “three O’s”- outputs, outtakes and outcomes. Sometimes we have to justify our PR retainers by numbers of…stuff. Richard, like you I think that is poor PR. But I do get the point about just how long term outcomes can be- and how long clients are willing to pump in money for what will be hard to prove in any case. That’s where outtakes come in handy. Outtake is all about perception. If you don’t change perception, then action is unlikely. So, research before, during and after a campaign is good if you are trying to prove you’re worth it, whilst waiting for the outcome. And just make sure you measure the perception that relates to the desired outcome- rather than just “name awareness” or general favourability.
    Does all the above play in social media as well as print? Of course! There is nothing so inane as counting clicks and likes, if they don’t get connected up somewhere to action.
    For those commentators above bemoaning clients’ lack of interest in social media, it all depends on where the stakeholders are. There are more than one stakeholder group, and the ones that hang out on Facebook are only important for a small number of very big B2C brands. For more on this, check out my blog at “Measurement 2,0” http://catherinesweet.wordpress.com/

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