Carefully Crafted on June 09

GM's Donated Corvette Highlights PR Challenge

While a number of PR people – a band of leaders, headed by Katie Paine – decry the value of the ad equivalency report as a measure for public relations activities, there’s a reason it still exists. Most of the reasons for its continued use are bogus, but there is one that speaks volumes: Advertising is an “understood” medium in the boardroom … while PR is still misunderstood. Consequently, this leads to the devaluing of PR in far too many organizations.

Case in point: The uproar over General Motor’s decision to give a free corvette to Armado Galarraga, the Detroit Tiger’s pitcher who lost his perfect game because of an umpire’s mistake. From the New York Times:

A free sports car for a Detroit Tigers baseball player was not among the reasons the government saved General Motors from financial collapse.

Rep. Issa, a Congressman from California, has questioned whether this was an effective use of GM’s resources.. According to his spokesperson:

“Until G.M. has repaid the taxpayers in full for the money they have borrowed, every action that G.M. takes should advance them in that direction.”

Of course GM should do what it can to fully repay their government loans, but as GM pointed, that includes investing in public relations, marketing, sponsorships and advertising. If you watch the NBA playoffs, you’ve surely seen GM’s ads. Are watchdogs questioning this high-priced communication tactic (which, by the way, is costing the company far more than one donated car)? Of course not. Generally speaking, people believe that advertising will drive sales, which will enable the company to repay its loans.

Which takes us back to my original point: Management doesn’t “get” PR. How many people read articles that highlighted GM’s gift to Gallaaga? It’s hard to say for sure, but it’s safe to assume it was a PR “homerun” — reaching far more people than a $50,000 (the approximate value of the donated corvette) national ad buy. And, that does matter – even if it’s hard to quantify.

Don’t misunderstand: I’m not calling for a return to ad equivalency reports. To the contrary, I’m saying us PR pros need to step up our game. Do a better job explaining why media placements matter. Reiterate over and over again that PR is more than just media relations (and, for that matter, more than just social media!).

Two communication thought-leaders, Chuck Hemann and Amber Naslund – recently had an interesting back-and-forth on Twitter about PR. They weren’t discussing this topic specifically, but one of Amber’s comments resonated: “No issue is indicative of an entire industry. But, you don’t ignore its potential to impact it.” She very easily could have been helping me make my point. We can’t ignore the fact that advertising “speaks” more clearly to decision makers. They understand (or think they understand) it. hey don’t appreciate the value of awareness, friends/fans or even scores of media placements because we’re not explaining why they matter in business terms. Know what that means? We need to change. They’re the decision maker. They’re in charge. We need to develop a vocabulary that they understand. Otherwise, PR will continue to be devalued … and locked out of the boardroom. But, we know we do our jobs that much better when we have a seat at table.

What do you think?

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