The Field of Dreams fallacy: What your media coverage should really accomplish

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I’ve encountered so many executives and entrepreneurs who have had a misguided idea about the purpose and usefulness of media coverage for their companies. They tend to think that media coverage should be an extended advertisement that breathlessly celebrates the brilliance of their teams, the superiority of their products or services, and the disruptiveness of their organizations. They also feel that, in order for it to be deemed successful, media coverage should quickly deliver clicks, emails, or phone calls that lead to purchases.

It’s all part of what I refer to as the Field of Dreams fallacy.

Field of Dreams was a hit 1989 sports fantasy movie starring Kevin Costner, and one of its memorable lines has become embedded in popular culture: “if you build it, they will come.” (“It” referred to a baseball field in Iowa with supernatural powers, and “they” referred to baseball fans. The late ’80s in full force.)

The media equivalent is the belief that “if we build [create] it [media coverage], they[new customers] will come [buy our stuff].” And if the expected customer actions don’t emerge, the conclusion is that the attempt to secure media coverage was a waste of time, energy, and money.

There’s a whole lot of C-level confusion to unpack and clean up here. So I want to dig into what the goal of your campaigns should be, what kind of coverage opportunities are available, and how your sales team should use the earned coverage to attract customers, gain a competitive edge, and close more business.

The difference between ads and media coverage

If you embrace the notion that your media campaigns should be long-form advertisements for your company, you need to let that go ASAP. It’s an inaccurate assessment that will result in misspent funds, poor execution, and frustrating outcomes.

Ads are promotional: their aim is to encourage the purchase of a product or service. In terms of longevity, an ad’s presence in a media outlet (website, podcast, radio, TV, newspaper, magazine, etc.) will last only as long as the duration of the term of the media buy that was purchased by the advertiser.

The role of media coverage, on the other hand, is to educate and notify the marketplace about something significant related to your organization. Pursuing it is a long-game plan that’s meant to build awareness and trust among qualified customers and influence their buyers’ journeys toward eventual purchases.

Where the presence of ads is temporary, media coverage lasts forever. Also, unlike ads, media coverage gets pinned, liked, shared, printed, commented on, discussed, saved, and filed.

Press releases: CNBC, not QVC

Press releases are the media coverage you control—you write them, you release them. That’s great, but the tone of the press releases that businesses send to journalists, bloggers, editors, and producers is an area that’s frequently fumbled.

Many business owners and execs think that if they inject a thunderous gumbo of exclamation points, unsubstantiated hyperbolic statements, and cliched biz jargon (“leading!” “best in breed!” “core competencies!”) into their news releases, the media professionals who receive these throbbing cyclones of hype-filled spin will be so impressed, they’ll put all of their to-dos aside and slap the announcement on the front page.

That’s not how it works.

My simple tip for how to formulate press releases for your media campaigns: emulate the spirit of CNBC, not QVC. Share timely announcements (e.g., additions to your line of products/services, expansions of your facilities, new hires/awards/achievements/research, etc.) that might be appealing to your industry—and express it in a professional voice.

Imagine how your news releases would sound if they were read by a CNBC anchor. If they’re measured, mature, and substantiated by facts, you’re on the mark. But if they have hints of a rowdy infomercial, you need to rewind, take a deep breath, and decaffeinate the wording.

If you choose to follow a hard sell messaging route, your release will either be ignored by the editors and reporters who you send it to, or you’ll get a call from someone in the sales department of the media outlet that you pitched. They’ll tell you that if you want your info to be featured, you’ll need to purchase an ad since your presentation is inappropriate for editorial consideration.

Firsthand experience

I run a marketing consulting firm, VC Inc. Marketing, and my initial exposure to misunderstandings about the intention and merits of media coverage happened when I was providing consulting services to a vocational college with campuses around the country. The organization operated in a very competitive space and was frustrated by the poor performance of its previous media coverage implementations.

The top executives’ thoughts on how its media coverage efforts should be crafted and how its targeted customers (in this case, students) should respond indicated a murky grasp of best practices and realistic expectations. To better position them for success, I explained how their approach diminished the ROI of their rollouts, overlooked the potential value of media coverage as a persuasive competitive differentiator, and most importantly, eliminated the opportunity for their admissions teams to elevate enrollments from prospective students.

I then devised a new blueprint that shifted from looking at media coverage as a vehicle for windy braggadocio to one that demonstrated—in a fact-based and enlightening way—the excellence of its offerings. This patient, steady, and trustworthy methodology not only helped the college gain exposure in print, online, and on TV outlets in each of the markets where it had campuses, but it also secured national coverage on NBC’s “Today.” The tandem of local/regional and national media attention brought a steady increase of inquiries, campus tours, and enrollments from new students that raised revenue for over three years.

The different types of media coverage

I recommend that my clients embrace a diverse blend of media coverage options that endeavor to teach and inform—not to promote or sell. These choices include:

1. Widely distributed news releases

  • Format: Announcements, written and launched by you (through a tool like Cision), of newsworthy company updates that would be of interest to the media and the marketplace.

  • Targets: Brand name online newsrooms (Yahoo News, Google News, etc.) and multimedia editors/reporters who cover topics that are relevant to your company, your industry, and the information that you’re sharing.

  • Goals: To gain placement of your announcements in online newsrooms, to attain high search rank of your announcements for specific keywords, and to inspire expanded third-party coverage of your announcements.

2. Targeted, outlet-specific story pitches

  • Format: Individually crafted pitches of story ideas that relate to your company’s updates/news/developments.

  • Targets: Authoritative and influential media outlets with strong domain authority that are relevant to your industry and the information that you’re sharing.

  • Goals: To inspire third-party coverage about your company and announcements.

3. Executive multimedia interviews

  • Format: Online, print, podcast, radio, or TV interviews with your CEO or company’s other top executives.

  • Targets: Authoritative and influential media outlets with strong domain authority that are relevant to your industry and the information that you’re sharing.

  • Goals: To inspire third-party coverage about your company by creating a forum for the points of view of the featured executives, to position these executives as bold and original thinkers, and to distinguish your company from your competitors based on the vision and innovativeness of these executives.

4. Executive POV byline articles

  • Format: Print and/or online op-ed contributions by your CEO about trending topics that affect your industry.

  • Targets: Authoritative and influential media outlets with strong domain authority that are relevant to your industry and the information that you’re sharing.

  • Goals: To position your CEO (who’d be credited as the author of the articles) as a bold and original thinker and to distinguish your company from your competitors based on the vision and innovativeness of your CEO.

5. Executive quoting for journalists’ deadline articles

  • Format: Featured quotes from your CEO or designated executives in articles for print and/or online media outlets on a variety of topics that affect your industry. These quotes would be included along with input from CEOs/execs from other companies who the journalist would also present as influential sources of valuable knowledge.

  • Targets: Authoritative and influential media outlets with strong domain authority that are relevant to your industry and the information that you’re sharing.

  • Goals: To position your CEO or designated executives as bold and original thinkers, to distinguish your company from your competitors based on the valued input of the featured executives, and to ramp up the prominence of your CEO/designated executives as a result of their being featured in top tier media outlets.

Getting more bang for your media coverage buck

It’s exciting when you begin securing consistent media coverage about your company. But don’t fall into the Field of Dreams trap.

Will you get immediate calls and emails from prospects as a result of the content that they discover about your company? Possibly. But the bigger and more important outcome of your newfound media coverage is the fact that it’s not you or your team singing your praises: it’s reputable sources of news that advise and serve the marketplace. And if leveraged strategically, the presence of your company in these media outlets has the potential to galvanize prospective buyers to open their wallets and become your loyal customers now and long after the content has been published.

To get your sales team on board, be sure they recognize the three enduring benefits of media coverage that will make their jobs easier:

  1. Media coverage delivers indisputable credibility for your company and your products or services.

  2. Media coverage provides them with an ongoing availability of fresh presentation materials to share with new prospects.

  3. Media coverage provides them with an ongoing availability of prominent updates about your company and your products or services to share with inactive, hesitant, or dead leads.

There’s an old saying among sales professionals that goes something like this: if it’s your opinion that your product or service is outstanding, but your prospect doesn’t agree, your prospect’s opinion will always win. But if you have verifiable facts, data, and materials to validate that your product or service is outstanding, your prospect may question their opinion—and eventually become a buyer.

An expanding inventory of media coverage legitimizes your brand and your offerings in the minds of prospective buyers. It’s inarguable evidence that your company was deemed credible enough to be featured in selected major media outlets—and that your competitors weren’t.

Using media coverage in pitches and presentations

In terms of pitching and presentations, media coverage about your company is the ultimate bulletproofing that your sales team needs to get to a close. It can be a potent partner to your marketing brochures, videos, and pitch decks because it’s not coming from in-house: it’s emanating from respected and unbiased third-party sources. It’s also an impressive secret weapon that your sales team can use to accompany this line: “but hey, don’t take my word for it; check out what [name of media outlet] has to say about it.”

When your media coverage goes live, here’s what you should do to make it available to the public and easy for your sales team to access and run with:

  1. Post links to your media coverage on social. As they emerge, post links on your company’s and your employees’ social channels, especially LinkedIn.This will allow your media coverage to get viewed, shared, linked, commented on, and liked by your peers, coworkers, team members across the company, current customers/clients, and future customers/clients.

  2. Create an “In the News” section on your website. This will act as a warehouse for the links to your company’s media coverage.It will make it fast, easy, and convenient for anyone who’s researching your company to discover your media coverage, which could educate them about your offerings and influence their buyer’s journey.

  3. Create an off-site portfolio with links to your company’s media coverage. This will give your sales team a one-stop, visually impressive repository of your media coverage to share with prospects/leads (I recommend using Contently). In addition, creating and maintaining this archive will boost the SEO of yourcompany and rank high on page one of Google for the keyword of your company’s name.

  4. Hold a webinar with your sales team. Take time to explain how media coverage can guide the sales journeys of prospects, hesitant leads, and dead leads toward eventual purchases.This will help your team learn how they can boost the company’s revenue (and their own income) by incorporating your media coverage into their efforts.

  5. Share your all future media coverage links, as they go live, with your sales team. This will ensure that every one of your sales pros has access to your company’s most recent appearances in the media, which would be useful in their pitches/presentations.

Savvy CEOs, entrepreneurs, and EVPs of sales who understand the business-building benefits that media coverage can make possible for their companies have a distinct advantage in the marketplace.

They see how it can enhance the perception of their organizations as well as their own professional brands. They appreciate how it can position them above their competitors. And they recognize how it can support, energize, and dramatically ramp up wins for their sales departments.

This was a guest post by Rafe Gomez, co-owner of VC Inc. Marketing. Rafe’s POVs on sales, messaging, marketing, branding, PR, and competitive differentiation have been featured in a variety of media outlets, including CNBC, Inc., Forbes, Adweek, Entrepreneur, PR Daily, and MarketingProfs. Want to see your work on the Zapier blog? Read our guidelines, and get in touch.

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