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How Media Relations Helps the Marketing Plan

By Mark LaVigne, APR

You’re the Product Manager or Marketing Director responsible for marketing a brand new widget, let’s say for sake of argument, a new high tech device.

You have a limited budget to promote the new product, say $20,000, and you wonder what will give you the better bang for your buck, media relations or advertising?

Your strategic planning to date has definitely satisfied the "new, better, different" criteria, has an identifiable niche, has clearly defined target markets, has a strong point-of-difference from your competition. In short, offers strategic merit.

You wish you could do both media relations and advertising, and have seen the effectiveness of integrated campaigns with ten times that of your current budget.

You have research data that clearly indicates which media your target markets consume. You realize you can’t even come close to getting enough repetition on the broadcast segments highlighted, and that even purchasing print advertising in the frequency and size you think is needed may be quite limited.

So what value can media relations bring to the table?

First of all, a seasoned media relations practitioner will help you see the product from the news media’s point of view. Your strategic thinking should be focused in the direction of what an editor and/or freelance journalist will see. In short, where is the real story? In what context does it fit? What does your product offer their audience? Development of this kind of strategic key messaging is imperative to give your product’s key messaging a chance to get through the journalistic gatekeeper to the desired end audience, your ultimate target.

Media relations is one of the few marketing communications disciplines that has to go through such a gatekeeper exclusively. But in that end lies its true value. Because the gatekeeper is charged with the formidable task of informing his or her audience with third-party, relatively unbiased information, the value of that information is considered far more believable by an audience than it would accept the advertising. And as the pace of technology development explodes logarithmically, journalists realize the value of helping their audiences with making crucial technology acquisition decisions. In many ways, the opinion of the journalist is that of a trusted family member, neighbour or friend.

The ultimate goal of good marketing communications is generating favourable word-of-mouth advertising through product trial. Good media coverage is that: word-of-mouth from a trusted source, comparable to a family member, neighbour or friend who has tried the product and says it’s good. So make the media an integral (if not primary) part of the product trial/word-of-mouth advertising process. (Just make sure to provide an adequate supply of the new product for news media demos).

Many marketers equate news media coverage with an equivalency to what it would cost to fill a similar amount of airtime or space with an advertisement. It is very important to remember one cannot buy editorial coverage. It’s not generally for sale. Because of that, its believability with an audience is far greater than the content of an ad. How many times more believable requires a lot more space than here to deal with properly, and frankly, a lot more work by the PR industry to develop academically endorsed, empirical paradigms to determine the true value of an impression. Just remember, media relations, unlike advertising, is more than counting impressions, it's a major step in building long term relationships with the gatekeepers who have access to your target markets.

Mark LaVigne, APR, owns and operates Hunter LaVigne Communications Inc. and is President of the Canadian Public Relations Society (Toronto).

See also:
7 Ways to Get More Mileage from a Case Study
Public Relations Strategy a Valuable Fundraising Tool
Writing a Successful Case Study
Getting Ink for Your New Product
Managing the Media
3 Keys to Keeping Your Marketing and PR Writing on Strategy