In advertising, you pay; in PR, you pray
COMMONNESS - Bong R. Osorio () - August 21, 2002 - 12:00am
Advertising is paid exposure that allows an advertiser to choose a specific medium, time, space, TV or radio buy, publication insertion, cinema placement or outdoor signage posting based on a media plan. Public relations or PR is free, earned or pitched exposure that is largely dependent on how you get the press to read your media packet and get your desired coverage. When successful, both can give your product a tremendous amount of exposure and credibility.

PR differs from advertising in that "persuasion" rather than "paid access" is used to get into the media. In advertising, you pay for it. In PR you pray for it. In PR, the deal is made with the reporters and editors rather than the advertising representatives from network and publications. Reporters and editors are persuaded to release or print features, photos, video clips or sound bites based on the information provided by the PR person. There is no guarantee though that they will use your press or broadcast releases, and even if they do, the schedule of releases is not definite, and the control in the use of the PR materials will be little or none at all. Although PR does not or should not pay the media for editorial coverage, it still cannot be considered "free." A good PR material costs money, and nobody’s time, including the PR person’s time and professional expertise, comes free.

Doing PR work in today’s media environment has become more challenging, where the attention of publishers, reporters and editors is now more focused on politics, international and national security issues, military operations, graft and corruption investigations, anomalies in private businesses and public offices, and crimes. You would agree that for the public conscience and your general need for information, this is not a bad thing. But the other reality is that for the PR pitch, you may have a much more difficult time getting the attention of the media and the reading or viewing public.

The challenge rests on your ability to get the press read your media packet. This can be one of the toughest tasks in your PR work. Reporters and editors receive volumes of PR materials each day. They are too busy to fuss, and sometimes they throw some of your submissions, without opening the press package. In this way, your PR investment that goes into media relations each time there is a PR implementation will end up in the trash. How do you help your product, or company meet this challenge? How do you make a compelling case for a news outlet to cover your latest technology or consumer product innovation when the available media space and time become scarcer and more competitive?

The answer is, you go back to basics.

Now more that ever, sound PR fundamentals are keys to successful PR projections. Your approach with media must be, as it always should be, relevant, creative and sensible. You need to be extremely mindful of the news events around you, and to what extent these impact on your products, and your company’s approach to business.

The following are some tips gained from my years as an advertising and PR professional. These will give you the perspective from the press. By playing the media game, you increase your chances of coverage in the print and broadcast outlets, not in the dumpster outside the newsroom.

Be relevant. You need to better understand your audience, and their changing sensitivities, so that your products sustain their link to everyday lives. Pay more attention to the available media outlets. What is the targeted media’s demographic profile? Is it conservative, modern or centrist? What kind of stories does it cover? Does it have a large or small staff? What stories did it run over the past year? By knowing the answers to these questions, you will be able to convince the editor why a story on your product fits in with its editorial mission.

• Develop a relationship with reporters and editors.
Talk to them, learn their names, and their beats. You have to realize that they make decisions on what to print or to broadcast, based on what their readers or viewers want to see, or what they like to write about. So before sending a press release or a feature article, make sure you really understand what they write. Also, know whether you are pitching to a reporter, columnist or editor. Reporters typically want straight news. Columnists are pressed to come up with the latest ideas and issues from which they can derive their editorial materials, so "pitch the trend" or the "big story," not just your product or company. Editors want an analysis of what they run and don’t run. They respond positively to that kind of initiative. And just like any professional, people in the working press are likely to work with those they know, trust and like.

• Make your key messages clear and understandable.
A volumi-nous press kit with giveaways and product samples is no more likely to be noticed and read by media than a one-page press advisory. Limit your key messages to three, and write them clearly and briefly. Convey them in your lead paragraph, and do the hyping afterwards. Media will be more appreciative if you go straight to the point.

If you must, be persistent. It pays. Media people respects persistence if done the right way. Don’t be afraid to hound a reporter if you don’t get an answer to your follow-up. When approached properly, you can get the chance to make your case with the targeted media as to why your news release merits the time or space.

• Manage your expectation.
Be aware where you stand in the media’s list of priorities. Media is typically interested in reporting the latest news. Usually, they turn to a long line of pitched PR articles when they need fillers. In such situation, understand that you may take a back seat to the real news, and that your PR release will have to wait.

• Think of other creative solutions.
You need to tell your PR stories in a way that does not trivialize your products, but respects the current media environment. And as traditional broadcast and print media outlets may not now be as receptive to as many pitches as before, you will need to have a list of other creative approaches in getting the word out, be it through non-traditional methods such as "word-of-mouth" marketing, special events or advocacy.

The above principles may appear simplistic, but the media environment you are faced with is far from it. That’s what makes media more relevant than ever. Keep in mind the old baseball adage: What wins games? The basics. The fundamentals. Going back to PR basics, and keeping in mind the PR fundamentals will definitely help you navigate through the competitive waters ahead.
National PR Gathering
Friends and colleagues from the Public Relations Society of the Philippines are enjoining PR practitioners, communication professors, and corporate and marketing communicators to participate in the celebration of the National Public Relations Week on Sept. 20-26. The week-long celebration will open the Sixth National PR Students Conference on Sept. 21, and will be highlighted with the 10th National PR Congress on Sept. 25-27 at the Garden Ballroom of the EDSA Shangri-La Hotel.

The Congress theme for this year is "Corporate Leadership and Sustainable Development," an area which has become the concern and responsibility of organizations regardless of the resources they employ in their respective business operations. Growth objectives are now being pursued to protect the bottomline but, more importantly, to serve the present needs of society and secure the future for coming generations. More details on this important PR summit later.
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