Yesterday our lead trainer Guy was media training in Hemel Hempstead (and although our media training clients are confidential unless they say otherwise, if they’re reading we want to thank them for their hospitality). The chief executive at the client had one core question initially. Why was it worth talking to the media at all? He wasn’t being aggressive, he genuinely wanted to understand the benefit.
Without divulging identities we can confirm this was a decades-old business with a solid, reliable customer base and hundreds of employees. The CEO was a man of roughly Guy’s age (he’s in denial about having slipped into his late fifties) so an experienced person.
It set us thinking on two topics. First, why had he paid to engage an excellent PR company and invested cash in our turning up to his premises if he didn’t understand the benefit? (The answer became clear: he trusted his marketing team and if they wanted to invest in enhanced services that was fine – he just wanted to understand in a little more depth). Second, since someone had asked the question, what were the benefits of speaking to the media?
Media coverage might not lead to sales
We do ask our clients why they want to speak to the media and some of the time the answer is that they want more sales.
Let’s ask the question. When did you last allow yourself to be persuaded to buy something thanks to a bit of media coverage? Actually let’s rephrase. When did you last allow yourself to be persuaded to buy something that you hadn’t already planned to buy thanks to a bit of media coverage? We’d be willing to bet that the answer is “not recently”. Loads of people check the reviews and social media feedback when they want to buy a new phone, a new dishwasher, choose a restaurant to visit. Note, though, that they had already decided they were in the market for these things.
Let’s clear something up before we go any further. We are talking here about “earned media” – in other words not an ad that you’ or a client has paid for, not a sponsored supplement in which you have final say. We are talking about independent reportage, something the journalist has found interesting in and of itself, or a thought leadership piece an editor thought was worth commissioning.
Inevitably there are different thoughts on just how useful this traditional media actually is but, for example, Sapience Communication in 2022 published a blog post citing figures that said a third of British adults came to the traditional media for their news rather than social media.
Nonetheless we’d query whether someone is going to the Financial Times when they want advice on a new phone. So an automatic addition to your sales funnel isn’t necessarily going to happen because you’ve been published somewhere.
The media can help indirectly through thought leadership
It’s not all about sales, of course. Actually let’s refine that a little bit. It is absolutely all about sales, completely and in every conceivable form. You’re reading this because you want to improve your company’s profile and go to the top of people’s shortlist when they are going to spend something. It doesn’t, however, have to be a direct link. This is where we encounter the idea of “thought leadership”.
Now, let’s be honest; Clapperton Media Training comes across all sorts of guff under the guise of “thought leadership”. As an experiment we entered the term into an online image library and had quite a choice, including the stock image above. And if it can be mass produced that often then there’s going to be the odd charlatan at it – in our time we’ve had pitches from people insisting that adding value to something before selling it rather than shifting commodities is “thought leadership” when we thought it was obvious.
There are counter-examples, however. When Guy was editor of Intelligent Sourcing magazine a contributor annoyed the publisher by coining a new word; he was advocating a local approach to global business and called it “glocalisation” and the publisher insisted it was a mistake. It didn’t catch on as it happened but it was an original thought or an original way of expressing an existing thought.
So yes, there is scope for publishing and establishing yourself or your company as leaders in your field. It’s also worth considering whether that’s going to achieve your objective, though.
Leadership isn’t everything
If we’re frank, we hear from a lot of people wanting to be thought leaders. We’re not convinced that’s going to lead to a business result every time, To some people this is a terrible point of view but to us it’s just logical and we can offer examples.
Let’s take one of the largest companies in the world, Amazon. The company certainly innovated when it first set up and it’s done a fine job in many ways since but we’re not quite convinced it’s a thought leader any more. Its logistics and of course its web platform is incredible but if you want to know loads about books you’re probably better off visiting a small local bookshop or something.
Ditto Apple. Yes we know they’re seen as market leaders and many of our trainers are iPhone users. If you can read this text then it means that typing on an Apple Macintosh computer works. However, Apple didn’t make the first smartphone. There were phones with satnav built in well before the first iPhone even came to the market.
The point we want to make is not that these are bad companies, far from it. However, becoming thought leaders does not appear to have been part of their mission when they set up and that’s actually perfectly reasonable. It just makes it a little baffling that so many organisations want to get quoted and published as innovators in their industry when this might not lead them to the position they want to achieve.
We just mentioned satnav
The satnav image is one of those that we come to often in our media training sessions, simply because of the way they work. You probably use one quite often because they’re automatically in vehicles and on phones nowadays. If you want to get somewhere you put the location in and then let the system work out the best route. If you have stipulations and stopping points in mind that’s fine but you accept that you may arrive a little later than if you were travelling more directly.
People abandon this approach when it comes to working with the media. Colleagues in the public relations industry tell us that their clients will insist they “want to be in the Financial Times” or that they “want to publish some thought leadership”. When asked why, the answer might be to do with sales, it might be to do with branding and mind share but one thing is pretty certain; it’s rarely clear how the steps they have envisaged are expected to get them to the point at which they want to arrive.
Whether you use a public relations company or not (and if you want a profile of any scale then it can be well worth doing) it’s worth taking that satnav approach and looking at where you want to get to first. You can then work backwards and see how best to get there, perhaps needing advice from an external agency on the way.
This entry started with the title “Why talk to the media?” because a client asked the question. The honest answer from us as a media training company is that we have no idea – why do you want to talk to the media? Only when we have the answer can we and your PR company help you with anything but the most generalised course. When you’ve got that target, we’ll help you hit it!