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Should print be valued more than digital in PR?

Print clips have had a long history of being valued more highly than digital clips in PR.  While print clips could easily be valued in the tens of thousands of dollars, it is much harder for digital clips to hit the same dollar values.

Rachel Catanach, managing director of FleishmanHillard Hong Kong, said print clips are currently valued more highly than digital clips in PR because a front page or lead article in a particular section of the newspaper were considered more prominent pieces of coverage.

“They are considered more influential than articles further back in the paper or online,” Catanach said.

Another reason is PR agencies and their clients are drawn to the credibility offered by print media, said Ang Shih-Huei, partner and CEO of Bell Pottinger Asia.

“The PR world is quickly adapting to digital and there are many credible digital information sources out there but there is still some variation in credibility. Therefore until there is more uniformity and reliability, print will remain a key source,” she said.

Amy Wendholt, managing director at APCO Worldwide in Hong Kong, agrees.

“Digital clips have not yet fully shaken off the stigma first associated with online journalism a decade ago – amateurism and a lack of professionalism,” Wendholt said.

“Many clients are still comforted by print clips, whether due to a feeling of permanence, prestige or even nostalgia. It is outdated and will change, but it is still true today.”

Jane Morgan, director of consumer marketing at Edelman, added that not all clients value print more than online but some clients have this mindset because PR agencies used Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE), a measurement tool that deduces the value of a piece of editorial coverage as if it was an advertising space.

“The Barcelona Principles were developed in 2010 stipulating that AVE was no longer reputable as a measurement tool, largely because there simply is no equating the value of an article that influences the audience versus the cost to buy an ad,” Morgan said.

Catanach agrees.

“The days of measuring PR coverage by comparing the value of an equivalent-sized ad should be long gone. This model is completely flawed; it measures output rather than outcomes and does not take into account the article’s tonality or the message it might convey,” she said.

“It also assumes the reader ascribes the same value to advertising as they do to editorial. An article in the FT, for example, has additional authority and credibility because of the perceived editorial independence of the publication and its potential influence.”

In contrast, Peggy Wu, Digital Strategist at Ryan Communication, said clients value digital as much as, if not more than, traditional communications, with traditional and digital going hand-in-hand.

“Anyone operating in traditional print media and traditional public relations are now being driven to embrace digital to sustain their brand and momentum,” Wu said.

“While clients still value seeing their names printed on the front page of the Financial Times or The New York Times, they do understand the power of implementing a digital strategy,” Wu said.

She said neither digital nor print should be valued above the other. Instead, content is the key to success across both platforms.

“At the heart of it is content. Content should not be limited to print or online – it is liquid. Once you have good content, you can create and sustain value through multiple platforms. A print op-ed can be transformed into a blog post, a podcast, or even a tweet.”

Morgan agrees that creative content integrated across platforms is the key.

“Ultimately the most successful campaigns are fully integrated. The main thing is getting the creative right first.  An insight-driven creative will naturally lead to print and digital success,” she said.

Ang said digital and traditional media serve different purposes.

“I don’t think it’s an either-or situation as both are important. Online tends to be the convenient and instant source of information. But given the reliability of news sources in print, I think many readers still look to publications for thorough insights. Print and digital are best utilised in tandem, and we can’t do without either,” she said.

What will drive clients towards digital clips

While print still has a role to play, digital is gaining an enormous amount of influence in the media mix.

“Digital facilitates the ability to be incredibly targeted or reach a huge audience, depending on the objective, because of its fluidity and flexibility. A successful digital campaign can truly create social movements – look at the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge,” Morgan said.

Clients are starting to recognise that the value of an online article lies in its longevity and searchability, according to Catanach.

“An online article is potentially there forever and can do more to build – or damage – a reputation than its print counterpart. Its intrinsic value should therefore be higher and brands are beginning to recognise this,” she said.

“While a print article looks good in the scrapbook and is a tangible recognition of the hard work that often goes into getting good coverage, in today’s digital world, it is more of a media memento than a thing of ever-lasting value. Online coverage is the real deal.”

She added brands should ensure their online profile matches the brand experience they invest time and resources into cultivating.

Some believe mistakes published in print is less damaging than in digital because it is not easily searchable online and is forgotten after the reader shelves away the print copy of the article containing the mistake.

Meanwhile, there is also the idea that because it’s so easy to change mistakes in digital copy, digital publications are less careful when checking for mistakes compared to print. Newsrooms producing newspapers and magazines have a process for checking and subbing copy that have been developed over a much longer time.

It’s not about the medium, but rather having anything damaging published about your brand is damaging to your reputation, for Wu.

“It’s like getting a cut, the deeper the cut and the more serious the situation, the longer it will take for it to heal, she said.

Regarding the fear that people are less stringent about eradicating mistakes in digital copy, Morgan said the pros of digital outweight the cons.

“Brands need to embrace the digital space – digital can start movements, set trends, directly engage with customers and involve them in the brand. The digital space is constantly evolving and it can facilitate brands to have impactful, transparent conversations directly with the people who buy their products and services,” Morgan said.

In print, it is difficult to know how many subscribers of a magazine has actually read an article whereas in digital, a wide range of data sets are available.

“You can analyse whether the article was read by someone of a specific gender, how long the person spent reading the article and whether that person commented and shared to a friend,” Morgan said.

“The feedback, positive or negative, can help to understand if the desired message is being delivered and it gives brands a chance to reach out to readers instantly. Once an online article is published, it is alive, mobile and can live on hundreds, thousands of platforms immediately. Your readers can have a discussion around that particular article in real-time.”

How should PR people measure the value of digital clips?

If comparing editorial coverage to advertising is a flawed way of measuring the value of digital clips and may even lower their valuation, then what should be used in place of this long-standing measurement tool?

The rate at which digital clips are shared is seen to be a good benchmark.

Ang said, “In PR, we focus on the message traction and credibility of the sources which carry it rather than the reach alone. Measurement is not just about how wide the reach is – what really matters is who is citing it and how much of the digital content is being shared.

“The rate of sharing is an excellent gauge of how effectively messages are being picked up.  PR in the online space is essentially becoming a science.”

Wu said that analytics made available by social media platforms offer good quantitative data, such as the number of impressions an online article or video has garnered. Capturing the quality of digital clips requires a different set of measurements.

“For quality, we look at how readers are engaging with the content – are they sharing the video or article with friends? Are they ‘liking’ the article or writing comments on the page?” she said.

Meanwhile, Catanach thinks PR professionals need to unearth new measurement tools in collaboration with brands for both online and print coverage.

“PR professionals should work with brands to look at research-based methods that are more effective in measuring changes in perception or awareness based on agreed business objectives,” Catanach said.

“But there is no silver bullet measurement solution that is free. PR managers should allocate budget to research and measurement in the same way their marketing counterparts do.”

[Image]: iStockphoto

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