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Monday, July 23, 2007

Publicity and control

Yesterday, I sent out an email inviting readers to either share their publicity success stories, or receive some free consultation from me on how to obtain and apply effective publicity methodologies. Among the responses, our business consultant Bill Caswell made these observations:

"In response to your newsletter, I can attest to the success of media publicity. I appeared on radio and TV 35 times in the past year and can attribute at least $100,000 in sales from those appearances.

"The obvious difference between publicity and paid advertising is credibility. No one believes the letter of the ad. There is a feeling of hyperbole and 'they're just trying to sell me something' with advertising. but with publicity there is a feeling of belief and trust as the message appears to be delivered by a third party.

"However, something more basic, even primordial, is happening. People like to be in control of their choices. With advertising, they are not in control the advertising is influencing them on what to buy; with publicity the viewer or reader feels they have control to choose to move forward.

"This might be captured in the expression: Everybody likes to buy but nobody likes to be sold to. Or, put another way -- Assume you experience a fine meal and a good server at a restaurant and contemplate a $10 tip with a great feeling of satisfaction within, and then the waiter appears and says: "Normally, for a meal of this size the tip would be $10."

"Does anything change? Indeed it does. Now the meal has not changed, nor has the service, nor the environment, nor has 99 per cent of the experience. However, what has changed is the choice to decide the amount of the tip no longer is clearly yours.

"That upstart will be lucky to get $5 from you. Yet, all he has done is confirm what you have been thinking anyway. Obviously something terrible has happened -- your freedom of choice is now being influenced. So it is true of advertising where the advertiser is trying to influence your choice; whereas, you remain in complete control when choosing whether to act or not from publicity messages."

I agree largely with Bill's observations but am not entirely sure about the tipping analogy. First, my perceptions from a month's travel is that tipping is a cultural thing, with extremely local influences and values. This can create incongruities, especially for travelers to strange lands. (In Israel, for example, cabbies never expect a tip -- they will happily give change to the final Agora(cent) -- but an Israeli restaurant waiter forcefully reminded me that "service is not included" in the price as I got up to leave without tipping. In other words, for people not familiar with the rules of the game, a waiter would be foolish not to remind the client to provide a tip. (Of course I think this kind of forcefulness works 'short term' but possibly at great long term cost to the waiter's employer -- the client, under pressure, would probably pay the tip as requested, but will never return!)

On a larger scale, however, Bill's points about control touch on the challenge of publicity from the publicity seeker's perspective -- it requires a fair bit of hard work and a willingness to cede control to the reporter/writer. You can engage public relations consultants to help you and give you some control, but you'll almost inevitably find the best results occur when you communicate naturally -- if reporters see the 'flack' (journalist's derogatory slang for a PR person) in your place, they will often be more skeptical and cautious in reporting on your business.

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