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PR101: Ads Vs. Media Marketing :

PR101: Ads Vs. Media Marketing

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Media access is most often seen in terms of advertising. If you want to reach a particular audience, the easiest and most direct approach is to buy space or time in the media of your choice.

Advertising is a multi-billion dollar industry and it’s hard to believe a business of such size is possible without an observable record of success. Certainly advertising does offer benefits; each year selected products and services increase sales and expand their market share because of successful ad campaigns.

Yet the concept of advertising is not always attractive or plausible. It presumes, by definition, that would-be advertisers have money to spend, an unlikely situation for new firms, companies operating at a loss or organizations with limited revenues.

Even if you have the money to advertise there are still problems. Audiences must be defined, themes and concepts developed and the entire presentation packaged in a creative manner. Given these requirements, developing productive ads isn’t simple and results are not guaranteed.

Competition For Time & Attention

Ads must also be placed with great care. Not only do ads compete among themselves for the time and attention of readers, viewers and listeners, they also compete with the editorial material they surround.

If you’re an advertiser, you want your ad to appear in a successful medium that attracts a specific audience, yet you don’t want a medium that’s “too” successful. Such a publication or program will attract many ads and your’s may not stand out in such a saturated environment. At the same time, you also don’t want a medium offering such riveting editorial content that your ad is ignored, a concern which may explain the mundane nature of so much television programming.

For many people, money alone is the difference between advertising and media marketing. The only problem with this quick and neat distinction is accuracy: “Free” promotion, in an absolute sense, is an illusion.

Although media coverage may be free, the expense of obtaining such exposure is not. Whether you do it yourself or hire professionals, it takes time, preparation and considerable thinking to generate worthwhile media exposure.

The Dollar Value Of Advertising

If media marketing is not free, then how much is it worth? Why can’t you place a price tag on media marketing efforts by calculating the cost for equivalent advertising space? Suppose you can buy advertising space at $100 per column inch in a metropolitan daily. Shouldn’t a 15-inch story be valued at $1,500?

In statistical terms it’s certainly possible to calculate the value of media coverage if our standard is raw space, impressions or air time. The problem, however, is that we’re attempting to compare radically different concepts.

Advertising is unfiltered communication that allows you to control the content of your message. Short of libel, crazed medical claims or bigotry, you can say whatever you want and most media outlets will run your ad untouched. With media marketing, you rely on journalists to interpret your story.

Advertising allows you to place an ad any day or, if you like, every day. For a premium, you can often assure which page or section will carry your ad. With media marketing not only is timing unsure, but it’s impossible to project when an article will appear — if at all — or whether a broadcast will air. Worse still, even if you obtain coverage, you can’t be sure what will be presented; you have no control over the length, content, style, placement or context of whatever is being printed or broadcast.

When comparing advertising to media marketing the distinctions above seem to give a significant edge to advertising. But there’s another value to consider: The nature of communication.

Adversarial Communication

Advertising is an adversarial form of contact. Somebody is trying to sell something and no matter how well presented, advertising is advertising. Even so-called “institutional” advertisements, the messages that tell us to drive safer, drink less or give more to charity are adversarial in the sense that advertisers seek to enhance their names by associating with a particular public concern. If institutional efforts are meant as purely munificent gestures, then surely there is no reason why such ads can’t be anonymous.

Media marketing is not an adversarial form of communication precisely because it’s filtered through independent journalists and their editors or news directors. The public reads, watches and listens with the expectation that working journalists have gathered the news for us. If they write or broadcast information about a particular subject we assume there must be some news value in the topic. News articles and broadcasts are not perceived as places where goods and services are sold or as forums where coverage can be bought, and therefore information which appears in the news is not regarded as adversarial communication.

Suppose a bank spends $10,000 advertising a new certificate of deposit (CD) in a local business section and receives 150 responses. Suppose also that a columnist writes about the CD and the result is 800 queries.

Is it possible the firm’s ads are merely ineffective? Sure. Another reason, however, is that people resist salesmanship. The very act of selling, in and of itself, causes us to raise our defenses. But since news articles, blogs and broadcasts are not commonly perceived as marketing tools, the public has no reason to be defensive and therefore a major barrier to acceptance is removed.

Advertising tells the world how you want to be regarded, but when you’re the subject of press attention, it’s the media making an evaluation. With positive editorial coverage from an independent media outlet, you gain the implicit, undeniable sanction and approval of the publication or program that carries your story, an entitlement that cannot be fully valued in the same way that we price column inches or minutes of air time. And, it should be said, it’s an entitlement that can’t be bought.

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