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The obsession with media value

A practical guide for effective PR in the 21st century

One of the first questions a lot of PR professionals will get is: “What’s it worth?” Even though it’s quite obvious that PR efforts are a perfect way to get your company and brand known, people still try to connect it to monetary worth.

There is such a thing as overdoing it – you can kill a product either by boosting it prematurely or completely overestimating the value of the earned media.

Attention vs. interest

It’s extremely difficult to measure what PR does, if not flat-out impossible. What often happens is that companies calculate how much it would cost them to get coverage if it were be paid media rather than earned.

Translating earned media into paid media is one of the more unbiased ways to measure PR value, but it’s crucial not to take it as truth. The big difference between an advert and an item or article is obvious – ads are geared to grab attention in a split second, whereas items are written to be read. The in-depth nature of an article means people look at it with different eyes.

There’s an inherent difference between the visibility of ad, and the visibility of an item or article. The calculated prices can become absolutely ridiculous, even though earned and paid media really can’t be compared in terms of media value.

Going too big, too soon

A well-thought-out PR campaign can have immense power to propel your brand into the limelight. It can also have a dark side though, as Secret learnt the hard way. The startup launched it’s disruptive anonymous messaging platform early 2014 and was forced to shut it down not more than a year later. Even though some foresaw big problems with the service, Secret managed to reel in millions of beta testers with an extremely savvy marketing and PR campaign. The company had secured $35 million of funding within a few months of going live, all to no avail.

The biggest problem? They had already passed critical mass before even going live. The promise of the hype could not live up to how the platform was actually used – cyberbullies quickly took over. Rather than truly knowing how their system would be used. Assumption proved the mother of… the end.

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So don’t exaggerate

It’s extremely difficult to quantify the effect of a PR campaign into currency. So instead of expecting this to be possible and forcing your PR department to do so, stay critical about what the reach has been and what it’s worth. Reaching the right audience with the right message is more important than what you think that item would’ve cost you in money. Keep it about the content, not about the bling.

Don’t bore with facts & figures

For some reason, people seem to think the dry and boring facts are the only kind of news they have to offer. “Blah blah launches a new service”, “So and so just raised €100.000” or “What-did-you-call-‘em has hit their revenue milestone”. They push their press release to some newswire and wait for it to be picked up. Now, even though a good press release is worth your weight in gold, there’s simply more to running a campaign than compiling and sending out a document. And it all starts with defining your news.

We’re not denying that raising a serious round of funding or hitting your milestones involves lots of hard work and accomplishment. We’re just saying that the dry and boring stuff alone is not enough.

You can’t win people over with only numbers

The first problem with all that launchin’ and milestonin’? It’s boring as hell. If your target audience is not engaged with your brand, it’s hard to win them over with numbers.

Let’s take a gander at the type of press release we’re talking about. They’re easy to find: all we had to do was enter “funding” on PR Newswire. Amongst the immense listing of press releases published in a single day, we found this beauty - Owlet Baby Care Receives $7M in New Funding, Product to Launch This Fall.

The reason we picked this one: it’s the only headline that stood out. Simply because it says ‘Baby’.

The problem

The major problem with this press release is exactly what we described before. An extremely interesting product has secured an extremely substantial amount of funding. But it doesn’t show from the title, or the company description. You have to dig through a stack of random quotes about the funding to find out this company is using Internet of Things to save the lives of babies.

Which, honestly, is pretty awesome.

Let people know why it’s interesting

Our baby savers forgot to hammer home the most interesting thing about their entire product: they’re saving babies. That, and their product comes from a personal drive to connect their parenthood with technology. When you google them, they didn’t hit any of the major tech publications with their news either! No Mashable, no Techcrunch and no Huffpost.

A little bit more work could have made the result of this press release a lot better. If a journalist can’t find what your company is about right in the header, he or she is likely to hit delete on your release. Remember: you’re writing for journalists here.

Here’s our take on the perfect headline:

Internet of Things startup Owlet saves baby lives, receives $7M in funding

Simple. Now it’s clear what the company wants to achieve. How they’re planning to do it can be the subtitle:

Baby socks act as a smart baby monitor

Of course, journalists love to write about funding. But figuring out what it’s all about? Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Avoid writing empty news

So focus on the things and the stories people care about. You may be targeting the journalist, but never forget that a journalists write for a specific audience. Don’t hide the interesting bits from them, because they simply don’t have the time to go digging. Make it easy. Unless your company is called Tesla, not a lot of people who’re going to care that you’ve hit a milestone.

Conclusion

There, we’re done complaining about the 5 dark patterns public relations only too often finds itself in. Well, almost. We’ve summarised them once again, just for you ;)

Spray and pray:

sending your release to more people means more people will read it, right? Wrong. No matter how many people you send your release to, if it’s not interesting to them, they won’t read it. It’s about interest, not volume.

Taking the easy way out:

your tone of voice matters. Writing effective and personalised emails takes a lot more time and effort than sending the same generic email to thousands of recipients. Too often people cut corners, which results in broad and unfocused messages that don’t appeal to anyone.

Targeting traditional media only:

traditional sources are still of great importance in the media landscape. They’re just not the only ones anymore. By confining your campaign you risk never reaching your massive potential audience.

Exaggerated value:

PR agencies can add a lot of value, but this value is practically impossible to quantify in currency. Knowing that your message has actually reached the right audience is more important than achieving a high dollar amount in a spreadsheet.

Dry & boring facts:

press releases are often focused on facts only. Many people think they only have news if they have something ‘new’. They often forget about the social context, the story behind the facts and the people behind the company – which are always the more interesting parts.

There are probably more than just these 5 dark patterns that PR and communication professionals get stuck in. But rather than going on an endless rant about the status quo, it’s time to move on to the interesting stuff: how it should be done.