Coverage: Quality vs. Quantity and The Dirty Little Tricks PR People Use

March 9, 2011

In response to a comment from a No BS Blog reader I want to address the issue of quality vs quantity, and how agencies have fooled clients for years. It varies by agency, but overall most firms, especially the big, slow, bureaucratic, expensive (BSBE) agencies like to play tricks with clients by positioning release pick-up as coverage. Sound bad? Well it gets worse. Not only do PR firms love to tell their clients that they “got coverage on Yahoo! Finance” but they add insult to PR injury and take it a step further by telling clients how to interpret the coverage. Some of the BSBE groups use a cute little scoring mechanism like: positive, negative, neutral. Some assign point values, 1-5, etc. In the spirit of “thinking like the client” I’d be insulted if my PR team told me how I should think about an article. After all if it’s good it’s good and if it sucks, it sucks. Not that hard to tell. But let’s get back to the quality vs. quantity discussion.

In order to fully understand the quality vs. quantity conundrum you must understand what’s really at the core of this issue: fear. For most PR firms and subsequently most PR people, fear is the fuel that drives the agency engine. Fear is the reason why nearly every PR agency website feels generic, boring, or safe. Fear is why most quotes involve the words “thrilled, pleased, excited.” Fear is why the suits answer all the questions in the pitch meetings. And yes, fear is the reason PR agencies want their clients to believe that ABCnews.com, TMC Net, EIN News, MarketWatch, EarthTimes and so many others count as coverage. A picture-perfect example of the BS in PR and it happens hundreds of times, each day.

When did the PR industry begin propagating the lie that more is better? Is this something new in the last 20 years or has it been happening since the dawn of PR? Moreover, how is it the industry has been able to get away with it for so long? We work with a lot of really smart clients – people who would never look at a spreadsheet of coverage and believe that 100 placements anywhere is better than 10 very targeted stories. Apparently though, a lot of product managers and marketing veeps must be satisfied with bulk instead of relevance. I don’t get it. Maybe it’s fear rearing its ugly head again, except this time it’s fear of the board, fear of investors, fear of the CEO.

I chatted with a UW PR class a few weeks ago. Good discussion, interesting questions, and for me fascinating insight into what young PR Jedi’s think about the role they wish to occupy. We spoke at length about quality of coverage vs. noise, and even at this early stage in their PR indoctrination there is a propensity to gravitate towards “more is better”.

I’m curious – do I have it all wrong? Maybe the writer Brendan Behan was correct when he said “There’s no bad publicity except an obituary.” Â Maybe the BSBE agencies with their fancy people, fancy clothes, and fancy titles are right. Could it be? Not sure. But I’m confident when I say this blog post is neutral to negative with an overall score of 3.

Just something to think about.

Howie

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