OP-ED: By proving its value, PR can claim slice of TV ad industry's $60bn pie

A giant pinata suspended over the PR industry is about to burst, showering down a staggering number of dollar bills: 60 billion of them, in fact. Only a chosen few will go home with much of the booty.

A giant pinata suspended over the PR industry is about to burst, showering down a staggering number of dollar bills: 60 billion of them, in fact. Only a chosen few will go home with much of the booty.

The pinata is the television advertising industry's annual budget. And yes, you read that number correctly: $60 billion, or 2.5% of the Gross Domestic Product of the US, or 10 times the combined revenue of the PR industry worldwide!

Two sticks will break open the pinata. The first is freedom. Specifically, the freedom to skip commercials. Call it TiVo, call it Replay. In the words of the chairman of the FCC, "TiVo is God's machine." When that kind of comment comes from the chief regulator of American broadcasting, you know he must really love the little box that automatically zaps commercials.

The other stick is accountability. Now that the ad industry is adopting a new coding system that can be linked with point-of-sale data, maybe clients will discover that the millions they spend on 30-second spots aren't really moving their product.

To be sure, TV isn't losing viewers. On the contrary, TV viewing patterns are inexorably increasing. Moreover, we have demonstrated a willingness to pay for it. Yep, that's what those cable and satellite companies do: charge you for free-to-air, advertising-sponsored TV.

So what's going to happen with that $60 billion spent each year? It's going to be redirected into what works. It's going to be spent on sponsorships, event marketing, product placement, video on demand programming, and other "non-invasive" forms of promotion. We didn't object to the name-brand use of Junior Mints on Seinfeld because they were part of a funny plot-line, but we probably used our old-fashioned electronic filter - the remote control - to scan the other 100 channels on our cable system until the commercials were over.

The industry that stands to gain the most is PR. And think how big a win it could be: If only 1% - that's right, 1% - of television advertising flows into PR, the industry would split up $600 million in new business.

Why should PR benefit? It's non-invasive. It's informative. It's part of the news, the program, the article: the stuff readers and viewers want. It's relevant. Positive messaging through the news lifts other forms of marketing, too. Good PR increases the effectiveness of ads, direct mail, sponsorship, and all other forms of "permission-based" marketing.

Now we get to the tricky part. How can PR benefit? The industry will surely go home without even a party favor if it remains technophobic and unaccountable. Marketers want numbers, and they want numbers they can measure against other numbers.

What does an enterprising PR pro need to do? Learn about video on demand. It's a textbook opportunity for the industry. Learn about sponsored TV and radio programming. Learn how to reach Hispanics who spend far more time with broadcast media than print. Learn about custom publishing, about internet news sites and video on the web. Broadband, which allows full-motion video to flow onto our office and home computers, is roaring past our homes and offices as fast as an early 20th century locomotive.

But without measurement, there is no value. And marketers - be they consumer product companies or not-for-profit groups - need to determine value. You know: return on investment, the needle on the dashboard. Media analysis companies like Delahaye Medialink have won awards for devising numbers that marketers can understand. These numbers tell marketers the precise cost per new customer. Yes, PR can have a seat at the $60 billion table if it can prove its value.

The 30-second spot is going to be with us for many years to come. The Coca-Cola Company alone spends more than $1 billion a year on them. But Coke is also now questioning that spend and, along with thousands of other marketers, it's looking to find new ways to move product.

The pinata is hung, the sticks are being handed out to the partygoers, and the song has already begun to play. Are you ready?

  • Laurence Moskowitz is chairman and CEO of Medialink, a provider of broadcast PR and media evaluation and measurement services.

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