beyonce-knowles-stars-300a101006Whenever I turn on the nightly news and see the CEO of a multinational organisation handing over a novelty-size cheque to a charity, the cynic in me can’t help but question the company’s motives.

To me, even if an act of corporate social responsibility is genuine, it doesn’t appear so if it is splashed all over the media. On the other hand, if the prospect of media coverage motivates an organisation to do a good deed, the motives shouldn’t matter – the important thing is that the deed the being done.

The act of generosity that is drawing all the attention of the media this week involves an international superstar, a world tour, and a simple act of kindness.

On the night of her first Australian concert, Beyonce Knowles invited an 11-year-old Chelsea James, who is battling leukaemia, onto the stage and dedicated to her the hit song ‘Halo.’

According to today’s Daily Telegraph, the good deed made “many of the 15,000 concert-goers cry,” and is “boosting Beyonce’s popularity.”

This type of good guy tactic is regularly used by organisations, brands and personalities to generate some quick positive publicity, and often it’s a race to see who gets in first to monopolise an opportunity for charity.

For example, when doing the rounds of the media, young Chelsea James innocently mentioned that her brothers Ryan and Beau had as yet been unable to watch the popular clip on YouTube as the family had been saving for a computer – opportunity, opportunity – enter Harvey Norman, who jumped at the chance to donate a computer.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have mused over some of the many ways that marketers can make it into the media – from the use of viral campaigns on youtube and the beloved marketing survey, to the use of celebrity association and public publicity stunts.

So, why all the effort? Why do so many prs and marketers have to the goal of “making it” into the media?

According to Vercic et al, prs consider news in the media to have a superior value to advertising, because:

• They believe the public does not recognize the organisation as the source of the “news” and will therefore perceive the message to be unbiased and credible.
• Many people consider the media to be neutral third party; therefore, any mentions of brands, products or services in the media may be treated as a trusted, third party endorsement.
• “Recievers tend to believe in news more than they believe in advertising.”

Similarly, Jo states:

“Public relations professionals have consistently asserted the superiority of news editorial in media content over advertising. This belief stems from the assumption that third-person endorsements are more credible than those from first-person sources.”

            Vercic, Vercic & Laco. (2008). ‘Comparing advertising and editorials: An experimental study in TV and print.’ Public Relations Review, 34, pp 380-386.
            Jo, S. (2004). ‘Effect of content type on impact: editorial vs. advertising.’ Public Relations Review, 30, pp 503-512.

Sometimes, marketers need to make a big statement to make it into the media.

davenport1Over the weekend, underwear brand Davenport recruited Olympians Stephanie Rice and Eamon Sullivan to film a TV ad on Bondi beach – which doubled as a major publicity stunt for the brand’s new summer range when the general public was invited take on the stars in a giant game of Twister.

The stunt was large-scale, colourful and creative. The media were pulled in by the celebrity of Rice and Sullivan (particularly due to their romantic history) and the public participation element allowed for some positive interaction with the brand.

If done well, the ‘public spectacle’ gives a brand or product prominence in media. Well known for using the technique is extravagant billionaire Sir Richard Branson, who has pulled off many public stunts all in the name of publicity – most recently, standing of the wing of a Boeing-747 with a scantily clad celebrity sidekick…

National Asthma Week, from 1-7 September 2009, is an opportunity for health advocacy groups across Australia to raise awareness of asthma within the community. It is also an opportunity for drug companies to spruik their products.

Published in today’s Daily Telegraph is the story a Luke Walker, a 23 year old Sydneysider who carries a ventolin puffer to ward off asthma attacks. Luke also made an appearance this morning on Channel Nine’s Today Show to discuss the impact that his chronic asthma has on his social life and relationships.

Both stories draw on the results of a recent survey, which found that one-in-five respondents cancelled social engagements because of their asthma.

Interestingly, the survey was conducted by AstraZeneca – an Australian “healthcare solutions” company which is “engaged in the research, development, manufacture and supply of medicines” – including a respiratory range to “help physicians treat asthma and rhinitis in both adults and children.”

In my view, the approach taken by AstraZeneca was extremely effective. Luke, as the human face of the story, was likeable and engaging; the online poll of 200 sufferers produced legitimate findings and drew attention to a worthwhile cause; and the timing with National Asthma Week gave this important issue added credence.

Clearly, the media agreed.

Myer Spring Summer Fashion Launch 2009So your client is launching a new product, and it’s your job to make it ‘news.’ The problem is, you’re lacking a legitimate news angle. The solution? Hire a celebrity.

In today’s Daily Telegraph, the link to celebrity has enabled several product launches and events to make it into the news and gossip pages.

On page three is all the catwalk action from the Rosemount Sydney Fashion Festival, and a story in ‘Sydney Confidential’ makes notable mentions of the launch of Speedo’s first underwear line; the latest campaign for plus-cup bras; and a brunch in Centennial Park hosted by brasNthings.

The common thread? Both stories have an indelible link to celebrity. The Confidential story features Lara Bingle, Kate Ceberano and Annalise Braakensiek as models for the various products; and the Rosemount story, whilst technically about plus-sized models, was yet another opportunity to mention Jennifer Hawkins.

The celebrity of Jennifer Hawkins has been a media magnet for Myer all week – not only was she the major drawcard for the launch of its new Spring-Summer line, but her most recent wardrobe malfunction made the fashion show nightly news bulletin material.

Sure, our former Miss Universe is universally loved in Australia and Myer is one of this country’s largest and most recognisable department stores – but Jen’s wardrobe malfunction does pose the question, is her celebrity really so high that a swimming costume slippage is of real public interest, or was it just a slow news day?

Journalists love numbers.

With a quick search of the word “survey” on an online news site, you will learn that:

  • 62% of South Australian drivers worry about being targeted in a road rage attack
  • 80% of people believe believe Australia needs to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and
  • Almost a third of Australians rate the risk of a terrorist attack at home as highly likely.

Whatever the topic of a story may be, it is clear that journos love to substantiate a story with facts and figures. Marketers recognise this, and are more than willinging to oblige with poll results that directly or indirectly promote their products or brand.

In a recent episode of Media Watch, Jonathon Holmes provides a good example of marketers making it into the media by distracting them with the beloved statistic. The story, issued by Meat & Livestock Australia, claimed that Aussie butchers are “happier, feeling healthier, laughing more and are having more sex than the rest of us” – and they had the stats to prove it, claiming that butchers have 60% more sex than the rest of us.

According to Media Watch, a mass of televison, radio and print media outlets took the bait – and Holmes mused on the humourous fact that the media never seem to learn… if only they looked at the fine-print on the media release, they would realise the “silly poll” was  a cunning attempt to promote red meat!

I however, tend to think that the media isn’t really that silly. In this case and in many others, marketers provide the media with easy, ready-made stories that are interesting, quirky and require no independent research. The media do read the fine-print, they just don’t care.

One of the most hotly debated examples of marketers making it into the media is Witchery’s ‘Girl-with-the-jacket’ campaign.

According to Naked Communications, who devised the campaign, the ‘Girl-with-the-jacket’ Youtube clip was part of a wider strategy to gradually raise public awareness of Witchery’s new line of men’s clothing – in the lead-up to the launch of new Witchery stores in March 2010. Naked’s Mat Baxter told Mumbrella the campaign was intended to be “episodic” and would include a series of print ads over the coming months. However,  “it just went nuts overnight”, leaving the agency to come up with a new strategy to sustain the Witchery campaign when the hype over the ‘Girl-with-the-jacket’ calmed down.

The campaign has incited much debate about marketing ethics and the responsible use of the Internet. To me, whether the ‘Girl-with-the-jacket’ is an example of media deception, consumer manipulation, or sloppy journalism is inconsequential. What the campaign certainly is, is an example of how, with some original thought, marketers can infiltrate the editorial media wall.