Honest Strategy + Strategic Honesty

By Matt Van Hoven 

Communication is all about the message and getting it in the right place. PR and advertising share that mission, though the methods used to disseminate “it” differ, and these days a few players are saying PR might be a gooder route for your client’s business. Them’s fightin’ words. So, who is saying this and what are they spouting?

Science, that’s who! And a company that would definitely benefit if more people did what the ‘science’ they paid for recommends. I’m of course speaking of ARAnet, which basically pays people to say nice-ish things about their clients’ products. They also funded the research we’re talking about in this post.


About Aranet: their “branded articles educate consumers on a growing range of topics, while subtly incorporating information about our clients’ products and services.” Nifty!

I love Pepsi, it’s fantastic. Check please!

Anyway, the results (compiled by Opinion Research Corporation) surprisingly found that “compared with banner ads, pop-up ads, e-mail offers and sponsored links, articles that include brand information were most likely to lead US internet users to read &#151 and act.”

From eMarketer: “A key finding for marketers is that younger audiences respond to information that reaches them in the form of articles,” said ARAnet president Scott Severson to eMarketer. “More than two-thirds of the respondents between 18 and 34 said they conduct Internet searches for products or services they read about in online articles either very frequently or somewhat frequently.”

OK fine. We’re not totally convinced by this study, but there’s some semi-believable points in there. Now here’s what Steve McKee wrote in Business Week regarding marketing when you’re in the red: “The worlds of journalism, entertainment, and marketing are converging, to the point where it can be difficult to know where one ends and the other begins. Thinly disguised promotional tactics are on the rise in the media—you need no more evidence of this than when the teaser for your late local news just happens to feature a story tied to the topic of the prime time show you’re watching. And this trend is not limited to a blurring of the lines between journalism and marketing. It’s also happening within the world of marketing.”

Read the whole story, it’s pretty good. Without opening the subject of convergence more than we need to, it’s probably important to recognize that the one thing brands need more than anything is credibility. There are a few good ways to get it &#151 word of mouth, positive user experience, reviews and positive reporting. Well, negative can work too. But journalism tends to have more credibility and (these days) less money. Brands are the opposite, so the marriage is logical, but at the cost of objectivity. Marketers seem less worried about that of late, as do publications that are trying to keep their doors open.

Bottom line, we disagree with these notions. It may work right now, to get paid content placement. But eventually people will see through the BS, just like we have with traditional advertising (and digital, but to a lesser extent). PR is just as guilty of purveying bullshit as advertising is &#151 and because the two industries’ goals are the same, they will always continue to do so.

As McKee mentions, honesty then is of the utmost importance, and not just when things are good. You have to be open about your failings despite the pain it will cause &#151 and social media does a good job of allowing brand transparency (though few brands have taken up that torch). That’s how you gain credibility without anyone ever using your product, even if you’re young. Just don’t keep screwing up.

Honest strategy + strategic honesty. It’s not the whole picture, but it’s part of it, maybe a piece of the foundation.

PRNewser Via eMarketer