Evolving Media Relations Strategists: Media Planning for the Future

With all the tangential elements that have been adopted by the communications function, it's easy to overlook one of its founding tenets: media relations. Couple that with the fact that media relations is no longer as cut and dried as securing print coverage, and you're faced with a tough reality--that your media relations plan now must contain everything but the kitchen sink (and sometimes even that). How can you develop the most strategic media mix--and budget accordingly--in these times of disintermediation and audience fragmentation? A new survey conducted by PR News and Medialink delves into the media planning repertoires of the modern-day communications leader, uncovering the most-used media placement tools, the average budget allocation per media type (print, TV, radio and Web) and the importance of said media types to overall communications efforts. (For abridged results, see charts on page 2 and 6; for full survey results, please visit http://www.prnewsonline.com.) Perhaps the most interesting revelation: In response to the survey question, "Do you exclusively focus on earned media activities in your role?" 70% of respondents selected "no." "The fact that 70% of responding communicators are focused on more than just earned media provides more support for the convergence of traditional PR and marketing roles," says Larry Thomas, COO of Medialink. "The main driver of this convergence is the Web. It challenges the rules for engaging audiences, from the format of a message to the need to engage people one-on-one. That's the PR professional's charge." It's a charge that is being validated by more financial support, based on survey results. Nearly 28% of respondents said that between 26% and 50% of their 2008 budget was allocated for Web media; print was only slightly higher, with a 31% allocation in that bracket. However, looking at the results, one can quickly see that there is no one-size- fits-all formula for the perfect media mix--or for the budgets that back it, for that matter. Thus, communications executives have to take a hard look at every initiative they are planning and shape a very tailored plan accordingly. "Any public relations professional trying to reach a specific audience can't do it through one medium alone. Devise strategies and back them up with tactics to reach your target audience," Thomas says. "This approach must be applied to every campaign." The key, then, is reaching the target audience via that perfect mix. Consider the following best practices for doing so: *Remember that hindsight is 20/20: Always look at the media platform breakdown used for past initiatives. While it might be irrelevant to your present project, it still provides a benchmark against which you can revise your strategy. Ask yourself how that audience differs from the one you are currently targeting, and how successful the past mix was in reaching it. If analysis reveals, for example, that an audience segment responded especially well to social media outreach, it can inform future strategies. *Ask yourself the right questions before getting started. Thomas highlights four questions that communicators must as their teams in order to develop a successful media planning road map: Who is your target audience? This question addresses the need to thoroughly define your target audience, from demographics and psychographics to the places in which they normally consume media. "Research will show you what percentage of their time and media consumption is happening through various channels," Thomas says. What is the message you want to deliver? If you can't boil an initiative or outreach effort down to a succinct, consistent message, you might as well be tossing confetti into the wind. What is the desired outcome? "This is key," Thomas says. He advises against thinking impressions are the desired outcome--these are merely a means to an end. "You want to prompt a certain action," he says. "Today you can actually track specific results with regards to business activity." How do you report your success? Coming to the table with quantifiable measures of success is essential to get support for future initiatives, and digital media is a good place to start. "PR professionals can engage audiences with traditional editorial content, but now there is a feedback mechanism," Thomas says. "That whole concept of taking a traditional PR message and putting it in front of the appropriate audience now allows the message recipient to take action." *Don't overlook digital channels in the planning phase. When planning the media mix for an upcoming initiative, it is easy to get stuck in the comfort zone of traditional media and, in turn, to overlook all the ways in which digital communications channels can dovetail these elements--especially if you are working in tandem with the marketing department (which, as the survey results suggest, many of you are). "Right now we are in a stage where a lot of communications people aren't really 100% sure how much energy, effort and resources they should put into reaching out via new media. How do you identify the ones that really reach the audience you are targeting?" says Robert Minton, communications manager, General Motors. "Certainly [at General Motors], we've changed how we plan our media mix to be more digitally focused. The Web is allowing us to communicate faster and more completely. Now you can let the end users decide what fits their needs best." The PR News/Medialink survey results indicate that communicators are opening themselves up to Web platforms, with approximately 65% of respondents ranking these media as important to overall communications efforts. However, it's still important to reinforce that digital platforms can't be afterthoughts in media planning strategies; they must always be tied to meeting desired objectives. "Marketers enter these [online] platforms before setting the objectives that they actually want to achieve," Jamie Byrne, head of client solutions and ad programs, YouTube, said during last month's CMO Leadership Forum in New York City. Given the indication that PR execs and markets are working more closely on media planning initiatives, this is an opportunity for public relations professionals to take the lead and set objectives that are meaningful and strategic, and that incorporate online platforms. Ultimately, no matter what your media mix strategy is, one thing can always be said: "The answer is simple," Thomas says. "Don't go in with the mind-set of reaching people through one or the other. Embrace all forms of media." PRN CONTACTS: Larry Thomas, lthomas@medialink.com; Robert Minton, robert.minton@gm.com PR News/Medialink Media Relations Planning Survey 1. Please select the description that most closely matches your primary responsibilities: Public Relations 42.7% Marketing 18.9% Media Relations 17.4% Corporate Communications 16.0% Public Affairs 4.7% No Response 0.3% 2. Do you exclusively focus on earned media activities in your role? No 70.3% Yes 29.7% 3. Please indicate the estimated percentages of your 2008 budget allocated for each type of media. (If you answered "Yes" to question 2, please continue with this question. If you answered "No" to question 2, please skip to question 4.) a. Print No Response 39.5% between 26%-50% 22.1% between 51% and 75% 20.1% less than 25% 10.2% 76% to 100% 5.5% 0% 2.6% b. Television No Response 40.7% less than 25% 22.7% 0% 19.8% between 26%-50% 14.0% between 51% and 75% 2.9% c. Radio No Response 40.4% less than 25% 28.5% 0% 17.7% between 26%-50% 10.8% between 51% and 75% 2.3% 76% to 100% 0.3% d. Web No Response 40.1% between 26%-50% 21.5% less than 25% 18.9% between 51% and 75% 11.9% 0% 4.1% 76% to 100% 3.5% 4. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being most important, rank the following media placement tools and techniques in terms of importance to your overall communications efforts. (Only answer this question if you answered "No" to question 2) a. News releases (includes text-only or video and multimedia) 5 45.1% 4 27.6% 3 12.5% No Response 5.5% 2 4.9% 1 4.4% b. Media briefings or interviews (across all media: print, TV, radio or Web) 5 32.0% 4 29.1% 3 16.9% 2 10.5% 1 6.4% No Response 5.2% c. Media buys (advertisements via print, TV, radio or Web ads) 1 30.8% 3 20.6% 2 20.3% 4 14.5% 5 7.8% No Response 5.8% d. Sponsorships 2 25.6% 1 24.4% 3 22.1% 4 12.2% 5 8.4% No Response 7.3% e. Trade show marketing 1 32.0% 2 20.1% 3 18.0% 4 14.2% 5 8.7% Source: PR News and Medialink PR News/Medialink Media Relations Planning Survey, Con't 1. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being most important, rank the following types of media in terms of importance to your overall communications efforts. a. Print 5 56.4% 4 20.9% No Response 11.3% 3 6.4% 1 3.5% 2 1.5% b. Television 1 23.5% 3 18.3% 4 17.7% 2 14.8% No Response 12.8% 5 12.8% c. Radio 1 25.3% 3 23.3% 2 22.1% No Response 12.5% 4 11.3% 5 5.5% d. Web 5 35.2% 4 29.4% 3 13.4% No Response 11.9% 2 7.3% 1 2.9% Source: PR News and Medialink

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