August 7, 2008...6:44 pm

PR people prefer print despite consumer preference

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In a survey conducted by U.K.-based Parker Wayne & Kent public relations, nearly 53 percent of PR professionals said that offline (print) coverage was more valuable than online news coverage for their company or client.

Other findings from the survey include:

  • 63.8 percent of PR professionals believe their stakeholders refer to print coverage more than online, television or radio.
  • 52.9 percent of PR professionals believe their stakeholders are more influenced by print coverage than television, online or radio.
  • 11.7 percent PR professionals believe offline (print) coverage is becoming less relevant to PR campaigns.

Downloads of the survey are available on the Parker Wayne & Kent website.

The survey illustrates a major disconnect between PR industry folk and consumers of information with regards to the perceived value of print -vs- online news coverage and information.

The stark contrast in perception becomes readily apparent when compared with results from consumer surveys like one conducted by Fleishman Hillard and another by Experian Research Services.

According to Parker Wayne & Kent’s press release announcing the survey results:

  • Fleishman Hillard’s study found online coverage to be eight times more influential than printnd twice as influential as television with consumers.
  • The Experian report concluded levels of consumer engagement with online content to be much higher than when the same information was presented offline. For instance, there was a 25 percent increase in engagement when television shows were presented online.

Even though the survey of PR professionals was a rather small sample of PR professionals in the U.K., I think this perception gap is far more widespread in the industry.

PR strategies in general are geared toward aiming for print coverage for a few reasons:

  • Print guides TV coverage – The old joke in the news industry is that TV news producers go in to work and read the headlines of the local paper to decide what they should cover that morning. The exception to this rule, of course, is traffic jams, accidents and violent crimes aka non-PR generated coverage. My hunch is that people are thinking this way about online coverage, however, I may be wrong.
  • Print is easy to measure according to the old standards – Traditional methods of ROI calculations like ad equivalency can satisfy the bean counters even if it doesn’t really mean much in the real world.
  • Print is tangible – This one has no roots in logic, but rather more with the emotional resonance associated with seeing something in print.

Am I forgetting anything?

The reality is that online coverage typically has far more traction with consumers of information. That’s why there’s a strong imperative that we learn how to measure it properly. The number of unique visitors to the site and level of engagement with the news item in the form of comments and trackbacks provide a much better indicator of visitor interest and sentiment than arbitrary dollar amounts.

How do we go about educating executives and clients about the influence of online coverage?

Print may be tangible, but it’s tangibility doesn’t encourage engagement with the information. I know it’s our job to satisfy people who may want print, but isn’t it also our job to educate and counsel?

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  • engagement is a long way off for being an attractive marker for most people’s decision-making.

    things have climbed from swayed, to informed, but engaged is simply not important for people.

    they simply want to feel they know, or can compare, but to actually exert themselves in conversation is unthinkable, time-consuming, unwanted.

  • Measurement is important in showing the value, w/out people like to know that it got in print bcs they know that people pick up the “paper.” Distributors of online info need to be able to show that there is the value, and that will just take time to change the model.

    @gregorylent – that is a bit of a generalization, ‘to actually exert themselves in conversation is unthinkable, time-consuming, unwanted.’ I don’t remember hiring you as the spokesperson for our town ;-) The model for how our industry works needs to change, I can’t sit around engaged in the conversation online while my client wants me to do something else.

  • Great post. This underscores a huge problem in the PR industry where the practitioners are disconnected from the reality of modern media habits. The whole rationale about print guiding television coverage is a little short-sighted when you see data, like the recent study from Brodeur, that shows how online shapes sentiment and story angles for most reporters. Traditional PR people also seem to struggle with the idea that online media isn’t disposable like print, television and radio. Once more PR people learn how online search works and its effect on brand awareness, you may finally see that “ah ha” moment we’ve all been waiting for.

  • I can’t agree with this more. But I also can’t see when the time will come when PR (client-side) profs say online is MORE important than offline, when a lot of the cases it is. Is it a year, two years, three years. By that time won’t there be a different communications channel?

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  • the “Print is tangible” bullet (esp. your commentary) caught me on this one; there’s a philosophical dimension here that is ripe with insights and considerations. I have been watching a recent indie documentary film called ‘SCRAPPED’ (see that explores the scrapbooking phenom with plenty of lively talk regarding the sharing/documenting of personal experience, the “tangible” nature of the photograph, the elevation of the mundane to the memorable, etc. Much of the film’s dialogue is a portal into the very relevant topic of public sharing, and the embracing of such a non-digital means of delivery is a springboard for discussion, as well as a counterpoint for the familiar Web 2.0 laundry list.

  • I find this absolutely unbelievable, that clients feel that print is more valuable that online. Unless consumers are keeping months’ worth of newspaper and magazine clippings around their homes and offices, do they not “get” that online is almost forever? (And in the case of travel, do they NOT know that the majority of people researching travel do so on the Internet?)

    I don’t blame PR people. I blame the Neanderthal clients who refuse to change (if they had been around when TV was invented, they would have been the ones saying, ‘But nobody is going to watch that!’) and drag the whole model down with them. But I guess it’s nothing new. Advertising and PR people have had to employ the kick-and-drag school of client education even way back when I was in the field in the 80s. So not much has changed in that regard.

    I hope clients get with the program soon. I don’t envy PR people having to do all the educatin’ that’s involved with this. But as long as clients are allowed to think that print is the gold standard when it comes to exposure, and refuse to join the 21st century, then they have no one to blame but themselves when their net-savvy competitors leave them in the dust.

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