What is Coverage?

Over the past few weeks, I have really been questioning what is wrong with PR people. Now, I am no journalist and I’m not going on a rant about communicating with reporters. I am alarmed at two things: “the state of ME” and coverage.

The first is “the state of ME.” While social media is a really powerful tool that all PR pros should know, lately it seems as if folks in the industry have had their vision clouded by social media. Instead of making the company or client the story, many flacks have made themselves an integral part of the story.

Sure, we could easily say that the Brian Solises and Peter Shankmans of the world have fostered the appearance of PR pros turned media darling pundits, but that is just stupid. At the end of the day both Brian and Peter have busted their asses and I am pretty sure that when either worked on a client, they made sure that it was the client that got credit and didn’t try to make the success about them.  They also made it possible for many to see PR as an important corporate cog. At the end of the day, as a PR pro, you took a selfless job to make others see their name in print – remember that. The C-suite signing your checks surely will.

My second beef with the PR industry is what folks are calling coverage nowadays. In a few recent online chats, I have seen people note that pay-to-play coverage opportunities and Tweets from agency or company representatives qualify as coverage.

When you look at a paid piece of editorial, it is nothing more than an ad and should be handled by an advertising department. By taking paid social mentions as coverage, you lose the credibility of earning media. These paid opportunities also cloud your measurements as they are often looked at as needing to bring in a positive return on the money spent on placing them.

Counting agency and company Tweets as coverage is also as foolish. The main reason for this is that no matter what the audience or Klout score of a flack in this situation, the Tweet is worthless unless it causes an action. For example if you do fashion PR and your friends and network are all into NASCAR and hunting, what good does a Tweet announcing Coach’s new line of hand bags do? Sure adding a couple thousand impressions on paper may look awesome, but if they aren’t leading to someone checking out the release or purchasing, then you are just padding stats for the sake of padding.

I could go on and on about either of these topics, but I won’t. I want to hear what you think about this. Am I way off base, or is this something that gets at your craw as well?

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  • Jgregory

    I agree with you about tweets and company webpage announcements.  While they do stir interest, that’s not really expanding the brand across the internet.  Impressions are one thing, click-through rate is another.

    I will disagree with paid editorial (advertorial), however.  While it may be something tossed to a PR professional due to a value-added media buy, it is still an opportunity to tell a story with more detail than an ad.  Heck, PRSA recognizes advertorials in the Excalibur awards.  Just because it is paid for doesn’t mean it’s not a decent coverage separate from what the ad ‘wizards’ do.

    The only other thing I wanted to touch on was the business of people putting themselves into a story.  I’m fuzzy on this one as I don’t think I’ve ever seen this happen.  I will admit that back in 2000 I had to use my own name in a quote for a press release, but that was due to lack of time for a response.  Our football team’s home schedule was being changed and the coach/GM of the team along with the team owner were unavailable to comment. Other than that, I’ve never seen this sort of thing happen.

    Just some thoughts!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the comment. I won’t name names where I have seen the self-insertion, but if you look for it in stories you will see it more and more. 

      To be honest I don’t care that the PRSA recognizes advertorials. They are still an ad. Even if the messaging and inserting themselves to tell a story is just an ad with a journalistic flair to it. It isn’t PR because any marketing person could hire a freelancer to pen it and takes no PR skill whatsoever and to me screams that the company can’t get the story out there on its own merits and has to resort to paying for it.

      • Jgregory

        Perhaps, but like I said, a lot of times those pieces are add-ons to media buys and has nothing to do with not being able to get a story out.  I’ve done lots of them and also had feature stories on the cover of the same magazines that came from straight-up PR.  I hardly think I have difficulty getting stories printed.

        I what you mean, though.  Still, it’s a far cry from tweets and facebook posts.

  • Jgregory

    One more – just saw this in AdAge.  Not really incorporating himself in the tweet, but this cat learned the hard way how not to share personal feelings in a tweet.

    Wonder if he’ll keep his job.



    • Anonymous

      He is the president so I would say yes. If that were a low level person no. People need to take responsibility for their actions and know the whole whoops I screwed up mentality will not work nowadays.

      • Jgregory

        Ah, missed that he was the chief.  Can’t say I have any sympathy for him.

  • Good stuff, as always, Espo.

    You are spot on. I think many in the industry could use a refresher on what is and isn’t coverage. A tweet by someone representing a company is NOT coverage. If you received a RT from a news organization on that tweet, you could compile it under mentions. But it is certainly not under the coverage category.

    • Jgregory

      Don’t you have an awards ceremony to get to? 😉

  • ClaxtonCreative

    Well put.  Your conclusions are sound, but I fear you’re whistling in a hurricane. There’s a huge breakdown between the elders of the PR business and the younger upcoming version.  The elder group isn’t passing down the principles and mores of the business, and the younger group is so caught up in the actual technology that their focus isn’t on the mores of the business per se, it’s about compromising what should be a cannon of ethics to make money.

    Even more troubling to me is when a firm uses Business Wire to send out “press releases” instead of actual news releases, and then at the end of the year, takes a client a stack of “clips” that are just copies of the same “press release,” run verbatim on dozens of sites neither you, me, or a Google spider will ever read.  This is presented to the client for “Wow Factor,” so that it makes a loud thud when the stack of books hits the desks within the C-Suite.  

    How is that adding value to a client?  Sure, you might get a few reporters to call you about a release, but it’s been my experience in an old school agency it doesn’t bring them in in droves.

    I wrote about this very point Wednesday …. http://claxtoncreative.com/2011/prvsnr/

    Again, very good piece. 

    Donny Claxton

  • Jeff, I think you batted 2-for-3 on this one. Proper amount of ego? Absolutely. I’ll let me coverage reports and reviews speak for me more often than not. My tweets counting as coverage? I don’t think it is fair. That being said, most analytics suites (that I know of) do not allow for excluding individual users at the root. It is possible usually to remove users from an Excel spreadsheet, but very painful.

    Where I think you’re a bit off is on the paid placements. So many different sponsorship opportunities exist that can result in editorial coverage that it is increasingly blurry where the ownership lies here. This is a great example of silo busting and the trend toward an integrated communications approach to public relations. By being able to secure a bylined article or product giveaway, it is helping to amplify key messages as well as directly cause readers or media consumers to act, which I feel are two key PR metrics.

    Now, there are some ethical questions about paid placements. Should you nofollow your links because it is a paid link? Should you disclose if the PR person wrote the content? Should you include as overall metrics or should it be broken out? But to say “By taking paid social mentions as coverage, you lose the credibility of earning media.” seems a bit of an overreach.

    • Anonymous

      Eric – in terms of the counting on analytics of employee posts, you get to the root of my beef with it. Having you Tweet something knowing it boosts metrics is somewhat underhanded to me. So it is a catch 22.

      I understand the sponsorship piece with placements and advertorials. In some ways I see a value in them or a value add at the end of the day. I still wouldn’t call them PR though – i actually think it continues to blur the lines of what it is that we do. Are we PR folks or a content creation machine. And on the disclosure issue, it should be there.