PR, or public relations, has been around for decades and it takes many forms, but using PR for coverage in the media is probably its most common and arguably its most effective.
In very simple terms you are giving the media a story for free that it considers worthy of publication. That’s the exchange.
If you are using a PR company or a marketing company’s PR arm, the financial element involves the person/company paying the marketing or PR firm for securing (or trying to secure) the coverage.
But why should a company purchase a PR service and why does it work?
It’s not smoke and mirrors, but it does very much involve public perception. If an organisation takes a full-page advert in a national newspaper, for example, most readers will realise the organisation has paid a pretty penny to secure that coverage and therefore what they are saying (the newspaper space) has effectively been bought.
If the same message appears within a news or feature article, the perception is that it is the newspaper’s opinion, not the organisation’s, and so therefore there is a greater chance of impartiality and truth.
There used to be a grey area where advertising features were used, but these days any advertising space, or an advertising feature, is ‘paid for content’ and must be identified as such.
There is a world of difference in the cost of engaging a PR firm or buying advertising space – it can often be as low as 10% of the cost – so the savvy businessperson will frequently look to PR as opposed to advertising.
The potential downside – assuming the content is newsworthy – is you can’t guarantee the precise nature of the content in print. A press release is very seldom replicated in print. Bold claims or overly effusive praise lavished on a company will not pass muster or a sharp-eyed editor. It will also be cut to the size allocated to it and so much of it may not appear.
That said, though, if you accept the inevitable editing process, a positive story presented to the reader in the third person (ie from the newspaper/magazine/news website) carries much more weight than an advert/advertising feature…and is a fraction of the cost.
The ultimate media campaign – if you have the budget – is to combine targeted editorial with paid-for adverts. That way you can reach both switched-on readers and those swayed by the power of the glitzy ads.
But for SMEs the PR approach unquestionably gives you the biggest bang for your buck.