Engagement OpEd by John Mack

This month’s feature article (“PR: Advertising by Other Means“) is focused on the role of public relations in pharmaceutical marketing. Many of the ideas presented there have been lifted from the book The Fall of Advertising & The Rise of PR, by Al and Laura Ries (A&L).

Whether or not you agree with A&amp:L about the role of PR vs. advertising perhaps you should pay more attention to PR as part of your marketing plan. (Also, see results of the Pharma PR vs. Advertising Online Survey).

Why is that? For one thing, PR is perhaps a much underutilized, frequently ignored, and not well understood communications technique. Often we view PR as merely a defensive, corporate image enhancing tool rather than a marketing tool.

You also may have heard at marketing confer-ences about “consumer generated content” (CGC), buzz, podcasts and blogs. Clearly pharmaceutical marketers are interested in these “new” channels and are grappling with ways to influence them.

Unfortunately, because many marketers have an advertising mindset, they have not yet been successful in getting their messages into these channels. To paraphrase a well-known maxim, if the only tool you have is advertising, you tend to see every problem as “reach vs. frequency” problem. Perhaps your reach and frequency is fine, but you need a new tool to improve credibility, which is a critical asset for success in these channels. As A&L repeatedly point out, advertising has no credibility, PR does.

A dimension that PR can add to the reach and frequency of advertising is “engagement” or depth. You often hear this in buzz or word-of-mouth marketing circles.

Three associations — Advertising Research Foundation, American Association of Advertising Agencies and Association of National Advertisers — have formed a joint initiative to develop a new “consumer engagement” metric that would compliment traditional measures of consumer exposure.

Bloggers and other CGC authors desire to be engaged if for no other reason than to feel that they are “insiders” (see “Why Buzz Marketing is Buzzing Everywhere”: Selling Power, July/Aug 2006). Yet, as my own experience with Pharma Marketing Blog has shown, PR practitioners do not know how to engage CGC authors.

So what’s the problem?

With CGC authors, you can’t control communications the way you used to. You can join us in the discussion and have meaningful conversations, but you can’t tell us what to say.

Of course, the same could be said of traditional media. However, I suspect that after years and years of schmoozing and comaraderie, PR practitioners can exert a great deal of control over what traditional reporters write-eg, by locking them out of the story and threatening their very livelihood. Most CGC authors are unpaid and can’t be so coerced. You only make them madder by cutting off their oxygen!

So, let the engagement era begin!

Issue: Vol. 5, No.7: July/Aug 2006

Word Count: n/a

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