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Quantifying PR by Medium

Sep 1, 2003  •  Post A Comment

When it comes to conventional media planning, TV unquestionably is the dominant medium. By just about every important marketing measure-time spent by consumers using media, total reach among consumers, total ad dollars invested to reach consumers-TV rises to the top. In many circles it has long been deemed the “base” part of any media plan, meaning other media are planned around it.
While that’s an enviable position to be in, media planners are discovering that when it comes to other forms of marketing communications-especially public relations-TV is a secondary medium at best. This is no small consequence for the television industry when one considers that planners no longer are charged with simply looking at conventional advertising but now are expected to factor the impact of all communications channels for the brands they plan.
The good news is the field of communications planning is still relatively new and the tools used to make decisions about the communications mix are often still very crude, so the TV industry has time to adjust. But a new syndicated study has begun tracking PR impressions in much the same way that Nielsen tracks TV audience impressions. An impression is how many people are reached by a media exposure: the number of viewers in the case of TV, the number of readers in print media.
According to that research, TV accounts for only 19 percent of the PR impressions generated by the largest U.S. corporations. By contrast, print media-especially newspapers-represent the vast majority of stories devoted to corporate America, according to the Delahaye Media Reputation Index (see table), a collaboration of PR researcher Delahaye Medialink and the Reputation Institute.
The use of such data is still fairly new among big media shops, and the implications for media planning are still largely unknown. But at least some on Madison Avenue think it could radically change the way agencies plan their media mixes.
Historically, the research developed by Delahaye has been used almost exclusively by marketers themselves, usually the head of corporate communications or public relations. Over the past few years, the PR folks have begun sharing that data with their counterparts in advertising and other areas of marketing to help fine-tune their marketing mixes. And only recently have media agencies gotten on the bandwagon, as they seek to develop plans and strategies that encompass more than just traditional advertising.
“Basically, we’re developing a more holistic view of how a consumer has a contact with a brand,” said Richard Fielding, VP and U.S. director of media research at Starcom North America. “Obviously PR definitely has an effect, and anything that is going to at least attempt to quantify that is going to be important from our perspective.”
New Tools
Such thinking is au courant among the big media shops, but the tools to measure these other communications options to help factor them into planning are still relatively new. Mr. Fielding, for example, notes that Starcom conducts proprietary research on the impact that word-of-mouth and PR have on brands and on how that might offset or complement traditional media strategies.
“PR can have a profound impact on the way people think about our client’s brands,” said Steve Farella, president and CEO of TargetCast TCM, a communications planning shop that has been exploring how to incorporate PR impressions data into its planning mix. If for no other reason, Mr. Farella says, it is important to know what messages are popping up in the free media so that advertisers can counter them with messages in their advertising.
It’s still too early to determine exactly how that might impact television in media planning strategies, but the data coming from Medialink indicates that TV is a relatively tough medium for PR practitioners to crack.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Starcom’s Mr. Fielding. “From a PR perspective, they feel they can have more control over their message in print. And frankly, I think it may just be easier for them to get the word out that way.”
K.C. Brown, senior VP of research at Delahaye, says the lopsided nature of PR’s media mix makes sense when one considers how many more print media outlets there are than TV outlets. Ironically, he points out that TV likely has expanded its share of PR impressions due to advertising-or rather the lack thereof. As advertisers cut back on the number of ad pages they bought in newspapers and magazines over the course of the media recession, the print media corresponded by reducing the number of editorial pages, thereby decreasing print’s “news hole.” While TV ad spending declined over the same period, there were no corresponding cuts in the amount of news coverage.