There are a lot of people in the business world who don't "get" the media - the vast majority, in fact.There are even those in the marketing world who don't get it, as evidenced by our recent PRWeek/MS&L Marketing Management Survey. The study revealed that almost 17% of respondents, including CMOs, brand managers, and VPs of marketing, said their organizations had bought advertising in exchange for coverage, and 7% said their companies have had an implicit/nonverbal agreement with a reporter or editor and expected to see favorable coverage in exchange for advertising.
These numbers may not be a surprise to anyone and are no doubt much, much higher outside the marketing circle. How do you explain to a corporate CEO that Forbes can write whatever it wants about the company (as long as it's true, naturally), in spite of its seven-figure advertising spend? And when a company decides to withdraw advertising on the basis of negative or unfair editorial coverage, it is generally not a move that will win sympathy, but rather comes across as an effort to exert undue influence.
PR professionals "get it," right? Most do, sure. They know not to write journalists big checks or send them Porsches or start their pitch letters with, "The Acme Rocket Company, which has spent $14.3 million in your publication on advertising during the past year, would be interested in working with you on a feature story about the new logo for its logistics and infrastructure division."
Media relations professionals, though, can do almost as much damage by encouraging their executives, clients, or companies to engage in media relationships for the wrong reasons. The right reasons, which are true for both advertising and editorial engagement, are that a company or executive wants to communicate with the readership or viewership of a credible media outlet, be it a blog, newspaper, morning show, or talk radio program. Other right reasons include to develop long-term relationships with influencers, like top editors, writers, and producers, and to disseminate thought leadership.
It is also right to engage with media when the failure to do so results in misunderstanding about the company, which can only be corrected by regular and frequent interaction with a range of channels. Letting media in is an important way to keep check of your authenticity and focus.
But there are some outlets that will put undue pressure on companies to work with them - commercially, editorially, or both - by threatening or seeming to threaten to take a negative position about them in the publication if they do not cooperate. As any media company that would do this is, by its very nature, not credible, it is even more bizarre that this kind of pressure can yield results. And yet, it sometimes does.
Communicators have a responsibility to demand integrity from the media outlets they work with and hold them to the same standard that PR is held to all the time. Zero tolerance on bullying tactics is the only credible answer to them.