Conflict as marketing strategy

The Parents Television Council is at it again with complaints about an utterance of the F-word during the Live-8 broadcast on ABC. The PTC wants the FCC to fine the network, and so the usual suspects are doing the usual song and dance.

This is not news and should not be reported as such.

Let me explain. I’ve written here before about a revelation I had many years ago that has helped frame my thinking for many years. Here’s what I wrote about it 18 months ago:

I had a revelation 25 years ago that helped influence the way I view the media these days. I was running the assignment desk at WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee and was thumbing through a magazine by an animal rights group. There was an article on how to get the animal rights message in the press. It was written by a former TV news person, and it was very accurate. The article was “Media Manipulation 101,” and it was based on using our own rules against us. I never trusted anything from any “spokesperson” after that. The lesson was that people with things to gain understand the news business — in most cases — better than those IN the business. This is especially true in television news. We’re an open book for the PR industry.
Groups like the PTC exploit this for their own gain — and not necessarily for the gain of their cause. All you need to do is read their annual report (.pdf), in which they call themselves “The Nation’s Foremost Authority on Television Content” and cite 2004 as their most successful year ever.

But here is the most important paragraph in the whole report:

The PTC achieved dramatic success throughout 2004 with an aggressive earned-media publicity campaign, reaching tens of millions of Americans all across the country that the PTC never could have afforded to reach with paid advertisements. Through the non-stop efforts of a highly aggressive media-placement campaign, PTC spokespersons have been featured in scores of national TV shows, radio programs, and newspaper columns. With each appearance on a television or radio program, or in the print media, the voice of the PTC reaches out to directly touch millions of potential supporters. In 2004, the PTC was one of the most covered public policy organizations in America, having been featured on 40 nationally televised news programs, dozens of nationally syndicated radio broadcasts with thousands of affiliates, and over 200 local radio broadcasts reaching into nearly every American home. In addition, PTC research, campaigns, and spokespersons were highlighted in more than 900 distinct stories in over 350 newspapers in the U.S. and around the world (including India, Canada, Denmark, Great Britain, and Australia). The PTC has gained international recognition as a leader in the fight to clean up America’s airwaves. There is no advertising budget in the world big enough to pay for these placements.
“Earned-media” is PR speak for free publicity. It’s calculated and manipulative, and the media is duplicitous in their formula. The more outrageous their claims, the more publicity they get, and the more publicity they get, the more money they get to grow their “business.” And make no mistake about it, the PTC is very much a business. That it operates with a tax exemption simply means it makes money the old fashioned way — through contributions.

I don’t like the PTC. The goal is fine, but I detest their methods, and I’m intimately familiar with the corruptive nature of political power on the right.

If the press ignored them, they would go away. That’s sad, but it’s a fruit of the “professional” news and PR industries that I’ve written about so often. You can’t cast aspersions at the PTC without doing likewise at the system that gives them their power.

Comments

  1. Kmercuri says:

    Terry’s view of media relations is pretty skewed – if not narrow. True that organizations look to PR people to get them earned media (what Terry refers to as “free advertising”), but that earned media is just that – earned. A PR team wouldn’t be successful in getting all of that media exposure unless their client had a story to be told or a point of view that an editor felt needed to be heard.

    Ask a reporter and you’ll find that the vast majority have a jaded, cynical streak. Not much BS gets by them. So I fail to see Terry’s argument stating that PR people “manipulated” the media. True: we may be able to pull a few tricks, but nobody is going to get past fact checkers and vigilant editors.

    Terry somehow feels that attaining saturation coverage in the national media is a bad thing. I would beg to differ, and claim that there are decision makers all over the US that need to be reached via the news media. If I get an article in the Kansas City Star, should I tell my client that we should stop, since getting placement in other news outlets would be viewed as gluttonous or manipulative?

  2. I.M. Anon says:

    > "fact checkers and vigilant editors"

    And you find those where?

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