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Don't be victimized.
on October 16, 2002
Don't be victimized by this shallow, self serving analysis that is purely intended to stir up controversy thereby selling books at the expense of the readers best interests and the reputation and credibility of the authors. There are too many flaws in their reasoning to discuss here, but here are the main ones.
-- They indite advertising by calling attention to the dot bombs and their advertising campaigns... as though advertising caused the failure of these Internet based companies. Let's use their cover story as a case in point. Was the failure of pets.com the result of it's ad campaign or was it because the company was founded on a flawed business model? The campaign was very creative and memorable. People loved the sock puppet. But not enough to make them go online and order mass quantities of dog food and cat chew toys! People naturally prefer to buy that stuff as needed in the grocery store. Don't hang that one on the advertising, Al. The best P/R in the world couldn't have saved that company.
-- Other examples of "advertising failures" are similarly flawed. Did Chevrolet lose market share because they advertised, or because the Japanese and Germans built better cars at cheaper prices? If they had placed P/R stories instead of ads, would consumers have paid more to get an inferior car? Don't be absurd.
-- They indite advertising as being less credible and more self serving than P/R which is viewed as a third party source. That may be true, but that also makes P/R an undependable medium when it comes to promoting a brand. Why? Because the print editors and broadcast producers ARE a third party and they may or may not decide to run your story! They may not review your product, they may decide to blast it or they might ridicule and make fun of it. And, even if the editor was planning on giving you a favorable story, a heavy news day could wipe it out. P/R firms don't guarantee placement, so you could pay out big bucks and come away with nothing but a few mentions in some minor publications.
-- It's clear that neither Al nor Laura Reis have ever practiced P/R. They contend that P/R is best suited for building the brand and generating awareness. After you have built the brand, they say advertising is acceptable for maintaining it. (This contradicts what they say about the market share loses of Coke and Chevy) But the authors forget that start-ups with no recognition are often considered un-newsworthy and frequently get overlooked by editors. Let's say you are a busy editor or producer bombarded with hundreds of press releases on new products and companies. Are you more likely to look at a release from Coca-Cola or some new company called Ima-cola II? Let's consider a business-to-business scenario. You have two releases. One is from Microsoft and another is from Bumstuck Software. Who's product get's reviewed?
-- And, who says the media is unbiased? A few jounalists have integrity, but the papers and stations they work for can compromise that integrity in a heartbeat. If a company is spending a million in advertising with AOL/Time Warner, would you say they would get more attention than a company that spends zilch? If the company that's spending zilch starts getting enough publicity to begin taking market share from their large rivals, who is the media going to protect...their loyal advertisers or a new brand that says they don't believe in advertising?
-- Finally, the Reis duo claims that success in launching a new product is contingent on P/R to position the company as the first in a category! Like Atari was first in the video game category? Like Commodore was first in the desk top computer category? Like Prodigy was first in the IP category? Instead of being the first mover, it's better to be the last man standing. That's the lesson the Reis' team should have learned from the dot bombs.
A legendary ad man named Howard Luck Gossage said that, "People don't read ads. People read what interests them. And, sometimes, that's an ad! If you write an intriguing ad people will pay attention. If your message is believable, people will believe it. GOOD advertising works. So does GOOD P/R. But bad advertising and bad P/R are wastes of money. Any new revelations here?
Both advertising AND P/R are components of any good integrated marketing campaign. The advantage of advertising is that it says what you want, when you want to say it and in the medium in which you want it to be placed. It's credible if you write good copy and articulate a believable case for your product. P/R may be more credible, but only IF it is favorably written, IF it is favorably placed and IF it appears at the right time to help move your product. Those are some pretty big "IF's". Any brand manager that knows his profession, will use both advertising and P/R in tandem to generate brand preference. But for most brands, the mix should favor good advertising versus undependable P/R!