Companies of all sizes believe that more publicity is always better, as a means to raise brand awareness and drive business results. But there are several reasons why this noisy carnival barker publicity is a losing game. For starters:
- There are too many distractions within traditional print, broadcast and digital media channels to ensure that target audiences will notice your company’s brand exposure, remember seeing it, or be influenced by the coverage;
- Many types of media exposure have very little marketing value. For example, having your CEO quoted in a story that also includes quotes from competitors will do little to distinguish your company’s brand, or to make the phones ring;
- Publicity (also called “earned media”) is a beast that must be fed consistently. This effort requires that a company either engage an outside PR agency or employ dedicated staff members who are skilled at pitching stories and nurturing press coverage.
So, if media placement is both an inefficient and costly marketing tactic, then why do large, sophisticated companies continue to use it? Big companies use PR because they can afford to. They have the financial and human resources not only to be consistent in its application, but also to be sloppy in requiring a reasonable return on investment.
Conversely, because resources are limited, small and medium-sized companies cannot play the same publicity game; to survive, they must demand that PR tactics be cost-effective and accountable. Unfortunately, SMBs across all industries that attempt to go toe-to-toe with deep pocketed competitors by emulating their “more publicity is better” approach are often disappointed with the results of PR over time. Although they may succeed in generating some media exposure over a 6-month or one-year period, many companies eventually drop the tactic altogether. Other than a pile of press clippings or some online content for their website’s “In the News” section, business owners are hard-pressed to draw a connection between their publicity campaign and tangible business results, such as lead generation or increased revenue.
If the bad news for SMBs is that they lack the financial resources to maintain a consistent brand presence using publicity, then the good news is that “more publicity is better” is a losing game that no company should play, regardless of the size of its balance sheet.
Companies seeking to leverage publicity to drive business results in a cost-effective manner need to play a very different game, using the following rules:
Generate credibility tools, not placements. The underlying marketing value of publicity lies in the inherent 3rd party validation provided by the media sources that create exposure for your brand. Your goal is to generate media exposure that will yield a credibility tool for your business; telling clients, prospects and referral sources that you are a “safe choice.” Your media exposure must shine a light on your company’s value proposition (addressing why people should buy your products or services) in order for that publicity to serve as an effective credibility tool. More bluntly, if your publicity doesn’t make your firm’s sales collateral more believable, it’s a wasted effort.
Seek only high-value exposure. Contrary to conventional wisdom, less publicity can be better…if it is high-value media exposure. No publicity has the right to exist without a specific business purpose, and not all publicity is created equal. High-value exposure puts an exclusive spotlight on your company’s intellectual capital, underlying values or narrative, and typically allows you to control all or most of the content. On that basis, certain types of publicity – such as an exclusive company profile written by a “friendly” journalist; one-on-one interviews on relevant topics; bylined articles, blog posts or OpEd pieces that you’ve authored – are far more valuable than simply being mentioned or quoted in a news or feature story.
Plan media solicitations last. Under pressure to produce media exposure of any kind, PR firms or corporate publicists sometimes generate a placement first, and then attempt to figure out a way to leverage (or “merchandise”) that publicity. Too often, publicity with or without merchandising potential is simply hung on a company’s website like a hunting trophy. As a marketing-savvy company, you must work backwards…by first defining what specific behavior or opinion you’re attempting to influence, and then by determining how you’ll apply media exposure to accomplish that goal. Only at that point, are you prepared to solicit specific media placements that have a purpose, editorial focus and the potential to drive a measurable business outcome.
Build an internal merchandising system. If you’re creating effective credibility tools using publicity, it’s essential that you establish an internal discipline to ensure that your current and prospective investors, referral sources and other key audiences receive those tools on at least a quarterly basis. Many RIAs fail to understand that the ROI of publicity is based, in large measure, on the depth and reliability of their firm’s CRM system. To maintain top-of-mind awareness with your target audiences, and to benefit from the media’s 3rd party endorsement of your business, you must take steps (in a manner that’s not overly self-serving) to see that whatever publicity you generate is directly applied to remind people of who you are and why they should do business with you.
Slice and dice for additional ROI. In this digital age, there are opportunities to gain additional mileage from the publicity you generate, in terms of search engine marketing (SEM) potential, and exposure to audiences that may not be covered by your CRM system. These efforts should supplement, rather than serve as an alternative for, your internal merchandising discipline. For example, if you’ve scored a bylined article in an industry trade publication, initiate a discussion on the article’s topic within appropriate LinkedIn user groups, and attach a link to the published piece. If you use Twitter to promote the article’s link, extract a provocative observation or quote from your piece, rather than tweeting: “Read my article that was published in Widget Manufacturing News.” If you’ve been interviewed on CNN or the local news, post that video on YouTube, and be sure to include a written commentary that gives your video additional context and marketing value.
Changing the way you think about and apply publicity – primarily by abandoning the notion that the discipline requires a carnival barker’s approach to capturing marketplace interest – will allow your company to gain a powerful marketing capability. If publicity is designed and managed in a strategic manner, your small business can compete effectively against companies of any size.