Early in my career, I worked for the best PR salesperson I ever encountered. With bold visions and masterful showmanship, he would sell companies "fully integrated, marketing communications programs" comprised of every PR tactic under the sun including a touch of media relations.
In the second or third month of a large campaign he had won, my client side contact said the CFO wanted the company featured in Business Week. I told her we weren’t yet in the publicity part of the campaign, which was scheduled to begin in the fifth month.
"You don’t understand," the client said. "The CFO—the person who signs your checks—wants the story. You would be well served to try to get it."
We did get the story and I learned a valuable lesson that sticks with me to this day: "It’s the media that matters." Even in the age of smartphones, Tweets; Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn posts; and content creation, media relations still drives public relations.
Here’s a prime example: In this volatile market environment individual investors are concerned and nervous. They want guidance from their wealth advisors, the people they trust to manage their life savings.
Lately, I’ve received several email blasts, that include short videos, from advisors explaining to clients what they should be doing and thinking during these tumultuous times. As helpful as some of these videos are, they lack the validation of a third-party endorsement and generally come across as too self-serving.
Some advisors have been appearing on CNBC, Bloomberg or Fox Business. where they generally say the same things as the advisors in the emailed videos. But the simple fact that they are saying it on national TV makes all the difference.
Clients feel more reassured when they can see the stewards of their wealth have conviction and confidence in what they’re saying. "After all, if they are going on national TV, they must be confident, right?" Right.
Once they’ve appeared on a national broadcast, the advisors then can email the video clip to clients, can post it to their websites, distribute it through their social channels, and include it in their newsletters.
We help clients with video production, and there are definite advantages to producing such videos. But in this environment, earned broadcast and print interviews are a far more effective tool.
They provide third party credibility and the stamp-of-approval of a well-known and respected media organization. A self-produced video, or a written statement highlighting the advisor’s view on the market, is generally seen as less objective, more commercial, and not as convincing.
I’ve been in the PR business for over three decades and remember October of 1987 when the Dow dropped 23 percent—its largest one-day percentage point drop ever. Black Monday happened just two months after I landed my first job in PR and started working for that master salesperson.
The world at the beginning of 2019 looks very different than late 1987. But it strikes me that publicity (media relations) is still the most important component of public relations and is the primary service organizations want and need from PR agencies.
Yes, the worlds of business and investing are much more complex. And yes, other tactics are often central to a well-rounded, integrated PR campaign including: message development, social media, content creation, influencer relations, crisis communications, video and podcast production, and others.
But earned media is what investors—retail and institutional—ultimately turn to the most.
Despite the maligning the media takes from President Trump and its overall low approval rating from the general public, within business and finance the media still has significant credibility.
Agencies and practitioners that foster strong relationships with journalists and producers will stand out from others who believe publicity is "nice-to-have," but generally an outdated tactic from a bygone era.
While PR is definitely more than just publicity, for the majority of companies that engage with an agency, it remains the most compelling and cost-effective service that agency can deliver.
Of course, I’m biased. But my view has credibility, not just because of my experience, but also because this very piece is being published by a respected third-party media source. I practice what I preach.
Which way the markets are heading this year is anyone’s guess, and there is a lot of uncertainty in the world. But there is one thing that I am sure of — publicity and the mainstream media aren’t going anywhere soon.
I knew that in 1987, and I know it in 2019. I don’t even need the master salesman to help make the point.
Richard Dukas, Chairman and CEO, Dukas Linden Public Relations.