Sunday, September 19, 2010

That's not what I said

Burson-Marsteller anaylzed how companies' messages are conveyed in the media, including bloggers, and found a 48 percent gap, meaning nearly half of the message reported by the media does not reflect what the company intends.

A couple of thoughts, off the top of my head. One, the findings are rather intuitive. In fact, a lot of us in PR are happy when half of our message gets picked up in media reports. When a story comes out that reflects 100 percent of what my university is trying to get across, it makes me feel like I can go home for the year. This is exactly why savvy PR people have embraced social media: because it allows us to communicate directly with our audiences.

After all, media coverage is a means for a PR practicioner, not an end. It provides two functions: conveys strategic messages to your taraget audience, and provides third-party validation for your organization's endeavors. As for the latter, there isn't a great substitute for the prestige that can come from a good media placement. But as a communications conduit, the news media is rather inefficient. You have to rely on the reporter to get the story right. You have to rely on an editor or producer to place it where an audience will see it. Does it get buried on the inside pages of the local section, or during the last few minutes of a news broadcast? And you have to hope that the intended audience actually reads, watches or listens to the report.

Social media allows you to push out your message to the people you most want to listen, and get their feedback -- sometimes instantly. And when you do have a good media placement, you can get it front of people, instead of hoping that they happened to have seen it.

Another interesting tidbit from the Burson-Marsteller study: News releases continue to be reproduced verbatim. So much for the death of the press release. This should surprise no one who has spent time promoting scientific research. Many, many science news web sites and blogs -- many of them reputable -- print what they pick up from PR news services directly. I heartily concur with Burson-Marsteller that the lesson for PR people is to writer press releases for your target audience, not for reporters.

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