Thursday, July 16, 2015


I have been thinking a lot of pitchers lately.  It's an art that is not confined to the diamond. 

The art of "pitching" in the public relations trade involves trying to get a news outlet interested in a story involving a client's narrative. If done properly, the "earned media" that results has the benefit of yielding a favorable narrative for a candidate, a business, or a cause, that comes from an objective news source. There even is a metric the PR world uses for the value of "earned media". 

The term "ad value equivalency" is one of the ways used to measure the effectiveness of PR. It asks the question, if one had to buy the same level of exposure how much would it have cost ? If a quarter page is at a listed national rate of 30 inches at a rate of $1,300 per inch, it adds up to $39,000 for one weekday national ad. By extension a favorably-placed editorial piece similarly placed, is cited to justify the time and connections that a PR team or agency can leverage for your benefit. 

The reason that AVE has been so often dismissed in the PR world, is that it undersells the impact of PR, while confusing PR with advertising. In my example, an ad in a major publication hopefully does what it's supposed to and yields some trackable results for the money spent. An earned media placement is syndicated or reprinted, folks like me blog about content, it gets shared through Facebook or Twitter, and being editorially based it is considered more credible by end consumers than a paid ad. The sharing that happens via digital media platforms is not reliably accounted for in calculating AVE. The AVE formula simply treats PR as another form of advertising, which is not really the case.  Comparing paid and earned media is not an "apples to apples" exercise, and they really should not be measured through a shared measure.

Convincing those from an old school agency background that the century turned fifteen years ago is not easy. The same applies to AVE analysis. In one instance my market's tourism effort had been outsourced to a semi retired Fleishman-Hillard alumni of some dubious renown.  In her pre-digital era, an agency would get a placement, and that was the story's end.  However, in this age of something "going viral" daily, a print story doesn’t stop with a placement. The art is in taking the story link, and giving it legs with other audiences. Examples include the leveraging of paid and social media, re-distribution on websites and other proprietary platforms, and assuring the trust earned by a placement adds credibility to the messaging of a brand.  In the case of a tourism destination. that messaging is especially crucial, as the following example indicates. 

Many observers decry the use of AVE as a broken metric that is unethical, non sensical, and out of vogue since Don Draper's era.  But in narrowly defined situations such as political campaigns , issue advocacy, and non profit development, Ad Value can provide a credible metric to assess the financial impact of an outreach. If a campaign purchases a list of email subscribers, one can compare its efficacy to the addresses that were acquired organically. By assessing the cost per email address of the vendor provided lists,  the cost of acquisition for the organically produced emails is easily found. In budgeting for the campaign, AVE helps produce a financial value for each newsletter subscriber. 

In an era of rampant social media, the PR world is still struggling to find an equivalent measure to AVE quantify the value of a Facebook, Twitter, and You Tube campaign.  From the viewpoint of establishing a monetary ROI we still often struggle to demonstrate a defensible metric to prove an investment works. An interesting approach to handing those paradigms is illustrated below. 


Even though we live in a world of self publishing via blogging or tweeting, there is no substitute for having your story picked up by a media outlet, complete with backlinks to stories to share.  In dealing with traditional outlets, we functionally have less than about 30 seconds to pique an interest. Certainly we all have an interesting story to tell, but major news outlets are flooded by hundreds of story requests. Getting coverage means you have to differentiate your narrative and find a "unique storytelling proposition" to get gatekeepers to pay attention.

Before beginning your "pitch", create a narrative and draft an "elevator speech" containing the most important attributes of a story. Think of specifics and anything that would differentiate your story from the rest. Tailoring each conversation towards the needs of the particular news outlet you are pitching is as essential as if you were a writer marketing their authored story. Writing bullet points down contributes to the "message discipline" needed once you get a contact on the phone. For all of us have had our mind go blank,  after busting tail to get an interview or a chance to pitch our ideas. That is easier to prevent if you either have your points in front of you, or committed to memory. 

The key to success is finding out if it is something an outlet likes to cover. By not letting the content provider get off the phone without a reason why they passed on your concept,  one gradually learns what areas are more important to focus on when speaking with local media. As we often find in sales and marketing,  it may take five no’s or more to get to yes. But a successful placement  may lead to a result that is something more than what you envisioned in the first place. Remember that when you go out into the world and start pitching your story.