Tag Archives: earned media

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Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Zweig recently called out “marketing services specialist” Clint Arthur for selling speaking opportunities at the Harvard Faculty Club and the West Point Club, as a means for his paying clients to leverage the credibility associated with those two respected institutions.

As Zweig’s article points out, however, the schools neither sponsored those events, nor endorsed the program in any way. Apparently, Zweig’s article hasn’t deterred Mr. Arthur from hijacking brand endorsements, as he continues to promote this service (and many others) on his LinkedIn profile and his websites, including the “Status Factory.”

Clint Arthur may represent the extreme end of PR hucksterism, but for decades many well-known public relations firms have sold other types of false or inflated credibility that relies on the implied third-party endorsement of respected media sources and organizations. (In some cases, those respected brands are complicit in selling their brand stature.)

Here’s one example of how the credibility game is played:

At considerable expense, a PR firm will earn their client a spot as a Subject Matter Expert (SME) on a respected journalist’s list of sources, which may eventually yield a relevant quote in a published story. Although that story will often contain quotes from other SMEs, including the client’s competitors – making the coverage useless from a sales and marketing perspective – the PR firm will hype this “earned media placement” in several ways, including:

  • A press release announcing that the client has been FEATURED in ForbesFortuneCNBC, the Wall Street Journal, etc.;
  • Social media postings on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook referencing the publicity;
  • A permanent “As seen in (name of media source)” banner on the home page of the client’s website;
  • Surgical removal of the client’s quote from the story, coupled with the publication’s logo, hung like a hunting trophy in the client website’s News section.

All of these tactics are intended to suggest that the client is a safe choice, simply because they’ve been mentioned in a respected media source. And all of these tactics overplay their hand, with respect to the public’s trust in legitimate media.

There are certainly many PR firms that help clients to generate earned media coverage based on bona fide thought leadership and subject matter expertise. High quality content is entitled to the full measure of direct and indirect promotion, to ensure that a client’s intellectual capital (as well as its media “endorsements”) are known to target audiences.

Where the PR industry has fallen short, however, and where the offending “media shops” continue to damage the reputation of the profession (with clients and journalists), is the attempt to claim credibility when it has not really been earned. In that regard, they deserve no more respect than that given to Clint Arthur.

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Investment-Related Publicity: How Clueless is Your Fund?

According to BNY Mellon’s most recent survey of Investor Relations (IR) practices worldwide, fewer than half of the nearly 700 respondents are using media relations to support their IR goals. More significantly, only 6% of that group included media exposure as a top IR goal.

Whether its reluctance to proactively pursue publicity (also called “earned media”) is based on cost, control, or misunderstanding of the function, the investment industry is failing to take advantage of one of the most powerful means to build investor awareness, third-party endorsement, and assets under management.

Here are some thoughts on how your fund can effectively leverage publicity:

More Publicity is Not Better: The term “media mentions” is broadly used by the investment industry to describe publicity, which implies that the sheer volume of exposure is beneficial. Even if your fund generates piles of press clippings, however, there are too many distractions within print, broadcast, and digital media channels to ensure that target audiences will ever notice, or be influenced by, any of those mentions. A media relations strategy driven by volume rather than substance is an expensive, zero-sum game.

Not All Publicity is Created Equal:  High-value media exposure puts an exclusive spotlight on your fund’s intellectual capital, underlying values or narrative, and typically allows you to control all or most of the content. On that basis, specific types of publicity — such as a firm profile written by a “friendly” journalist, or a one-on-one interview on relevant topics — are far more valuable than simply being mentioned or quoted (often with a competitor or two) in a news story, or providing a sound bite for CNBC.

Create Credibility Tools: The underlying value of media exposure lies in the inherent third-party endorsement that’s provided by a respected, objective media source. (This is why a Wall Street Journal article is more valuable than paid Wall Street Transcript coverage.)  Your goal is to generate media exposure that serves as ad hoc “credibility tools” for your firm, which can be used in your IR program to assure current investors, prospects and referral sources that you are a safe choice. If your publicity doesn’t make your fund’s marketing materials more believable, then the tactic will never have a connection to asset growth.

Plan Media Solicitations Last: Most media exposure is pursued in a haphazard, opportunistic manner. But to generate publicity that has inherent business value, you need to work backwards: first define what specific behavior or opinion you’re attempting to influence, and then determine what type(s) of media exposure will accomplish your goal. Only at that point are you prepared to solicit specific media opportunities that have the potential to drive measurable business outcomes.

Put Your Media Exposure to Work: Too often, media placements are passively hung on a website or a LinkedIn profile like a hunting trophy. But media exposure itself is never the goal; it’s only a means to an end, and must be put to work. Current and prospective investors, referral sources and other key audiences should be consistently reminded – through your positive media exposure – of who you are, what makes you different, and why they should invest with you. This is the tedious but critical step that most firms skip: maintaining a database of important contacts, and nurturing those relationships with those individuals by leveraging their media exposure to drive awareness and engagement.

Slice & Dice for Incremental ROI: In our digital age, there are online opportunities to gain additional mileage from the publicity you generate. For example, if you’ve scored a bylined article in a respected publication, initiate a discussion on the article’s topic within appropriate LinkedIn user groups, and attach a link to the published piece. Or use Twitter to promote your article’s link, by Tweeting (more than once) a provocative observation or quote from the piece to generate interest.

Funds that use media exposure effectively also understand the greatest limitation of the tactic: that no amount of publicity can compensate for an enterprise that lacks a strong value proposition, a clear sense of purpose, and underlying integrity. Without those cornerstones of brand reputation, publicity’s potential to expose a fund’s shortcomings will always represent a liability.

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Research Integrity: The Achilles Heel of Content Marketing

The marketing profession has a reputation for sometimes using less than reliable market research to promote a point of view. And this marketer has been guilty of that sin.

Years ago, our insurance company client was introducing a new Directors & Officers liability insurance policy, and asked us to raise market awareness. With good intentions, but given no budget or time to perform proper market research, we interviewed a total of 6 corporate CEOs and board members to provide some validation to the underlying premise of our press release. The headline read: “Most Corporate Directors & Officers Believe They Are Not Protected Properly from Legal Risk.”

With very little expectation that a premise based on such shoddy research would qualify for exposure in the financial press, and dreading inquiries from journalists asking about our research methodology, the release went out. To our great surprise, we received no calls from reporters checking the facts, and the story was immediately picked up by two major wire services, and appeared as a news squib on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, followed by coverage in several business insurance trade publications.

Our client was overjoyed with the media exposure, but we felt less than honorable, and resolved that we would never use market research to promote a client’s product or service unless we believed the supporting methodology had sufficient rigor. And over the years we’ve lost work as a result.

Research integrity was an issue long before the internet became the platform for content marketing. Most often, your research-based news items would not be covered by respected media sources unless you ran the credibility gauntlet. Editors demanded your research methods and data, and had to be convinced that your study was objective and legitimate. Our very thin D&O liability research was a rare and risky exception…and perhaps a sign of things to come.

For well understood reasons, the “legitimate press” now has neither the manpower nor the time to dig deeply for validation of market research that supports content generated by organizations. The loss of this important filter, coupled with the explosion of online content, has created a marketing world in which sloppy, incomplete (and sometimes blatantly false) research generates news items that can go viral and become accepted wisdom. Pumping out content in volume has become far more important than creating high quality content that could withstand the scrutiny of a hard-nosed editor.

What this new world of content marketing means for individuals is simple: assume that all “research-based” information requires close scrutiny. Believe nothing at face value. If it’s important to your business strategy, or you intend to adopt the research to support your own point of view (or upcoming PowerPoint presentation), then you’ll need to become the hard-nosed editor who scrutinizes the original source; who looks at the sample size, respondents, questions asked, etc.; and who determines whether the research results legitimately support the conclusions.

What this new world of content integrity means to companies is more complex: assume that the “research-based” content that you produce is a reflection of your brand’s integrity. For the Marketing Department, this involves educating the corner office regarding the rigor, time and costs involved in market studies, surveys, research necessary to yield content worthy of customer-facing applications. For the corner office, this involves calculating whether the intended marketplace outcome is worth the necessary investment, and avoiding shortcuts.

Without the 4th Estate as the content gatekeeper, there is now far greater opportunity for companies to benefit from content marketing. And by not adopting the market research integrity standards that journalists long upheld, there are far more ways for companies to damage their brand through content marketing.

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Stop the Insanity. Fire Your PR Firm in 2014.

The attribution is unsupported, but Albert Einstein is often credited with the quote: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.” Its source notwithstanding, the axiom applies perfectly to the great number of companies that retain PR firms, year after year, to generate publicity that will have little or no impact on tangible business outcomes.

Over the past 5 decades, to rationalize hefty monthly fees, the PR profession has successfully promoted three underlying assumptions:

  • Any publicity is good publicity.
  • The more publicity, the better.
  • Publicity generates revenue.

Here are just a few reasons why it’s insane for most businesses to base their marketing strategy on any of those assumptions:

  1. Lots of Media Exposure is Worthless. The “worthless media” category can include one-off quotes or mentions in round-up stories that also reference your competitors…if you’ve gained no unique mindshare.  It can include appearances on network and cable TV…if the topics have a short shelf-life, or are unlikely to be of interest to target audiences.  And it always includes exposure in advertorials (regardless of the sponsoring publication’s stature) and feature articles in pay-to-play vanity publications…because you gain no credible 3rd party validation.
  2. Counting Media Clips is a Zero Sum Game. PR firms often justify their value by the sheer volume of media exposure they generate…regardless of whether it stakes out intellectual territory, supports a client’s value proposition, or differentiates them in the marketplace. The goal should be to create an arsenal of effective credibility tools; not simply to generate clippings to hang like hunting trophies in the “Media” section of a website.  This zero sum game is also played in social media, where scorecards of “likes” and “followers” are used as hollow substitutes for meaningful business metrics.
  3. It’s All About Merchandising. Business leaders must address two key questions in advance of seeking any publicity: “1. What type of media exposure will benefit us most?” and “2. If we gain that exposure, what will we DO with it?” Responses to Question #2 must provide clear direction regarding how it will support the firm’s sales and marketing strategy; how it will be used to drive leads; how it will initiate meaningful conversations with clients and prospects; and how it can be leveraged to gain other opportunities for targeted exposure.

Most PR firms fail to deliver on the potential of their craft because performing it correctly requires really hard work, takes time, and demands accountability for business results. Your role as a responsible client requires that you hold your PR agency’s feet to the fire by expecting results that have a measurable impact on your company’s balance sheet. It also means that you must provide your agency with the time and guidance necessary for them to deliver something more than a pile of useless press clippings.

If you’re unwilling to make that commitment, or if they’re incapable of delivering on your expectations, then it’s time to stop the insanity. Fire your PR firm in 2014.

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