How to ruin social sentiment and alienate the media

mastercard crap
Image source: The Drum
 
As MD of a PR agency I’m often asked the same question: how can businesses persuade journalists to deliver on-brand messages? It’s difficult to answer succinctly, but after last week’s furore following a ‘press pass for tweets’ scandal, one particular credit card giant has given us a good example of what not to do.
The media and its various arms simultaneously pose an ongoing problem and the solution to that obstacle. Space is tight in any worthwhile digital or print outlet, and there’s no short route to selling a brand into what room is available. Yet the fastest way to spread a message is often through good quality coverage, so all firms want to secure column inches that promote the business. However, editorial is shorthand for objective, meaning there can be no control over what makes the final cut. Instead, marketers must do their job properly.
As readers we all want to know a journalist is basing their work on impartial opinion and cold facts, as oppose to affiliation or prior agreements made with parties that have a vested interest in the way something is reported. So, when a writer revealed the agency representing MasterCard’s BRIT Awards sponsorship told him accreditation would only be given for this year’s bash in exchange for sending out pre-written tweets using specified hashtags and handles, a line was crossed.
Previously on the Smoking Gun blog we’ve discussed the expectations associated with this kind of thing. From press junkets showing editors around exotic locales to red carpet events, it’s easy for firms to confuse approving a journalist’s spot on the list with securing an unpaid advertorial. In reality, though, there’s still much hard work needed, and evidence required in order to receive favourable words in the aftermath. To put it more succinctly, there’s no obligation for them to provide any coverage at all, let alone a guarantee on what tone will be used therein.
That’s not to say successful media outreach shouldn’t rightly result in the kind of sentiment any company would be right to pay good money for- either in articles, videos or via social channels. The difference is that kind of truly successful result comes from real achievements on the part of the brand and its message carriers. They have to deliver what was originally proposed, leave nothing to chance and treat the press with respect in order to leverage quality coverage which properly reflects the jaw dropping event or innovative new product launch.
In answer to that question then, for media stakeholders to relay what brands hope, the brand must live up to the expectations set out in press releases, pitches and stories. For MasterCard’s BRIT debacle, had there been no pre-requisite to send out tweets tantamount to sponsored content there’s every chance the journalist would have posted something positive off their own back, providing the ceremony didn’t suffer any major mishaps. After all, few editorial professionals wouldn’t keep the world updated on their experiences at such a high profile occasion. By trying to force those hands any good coverage was overshadowed in the ensuing uproar, which serves to evidence how honesty and fair dealing are the only terms that can keep companies on the right side of the media.