Advertising as a marketing vehicle has seen a steady decline through the years, with margins eroded by drastic price-cutting from media owners such as newspapers, TV, radio stations, and especially online media. The reasons are simple – the advertisers have decreasing performance, profit deficits, heavy debt, near bankruptcies, and the last thing on their minds would be to spend more money in advertising.

But more importantly, the fundamental principle of advertising is “WE say how good we are”. While ethical self-glorification is an acceptable form of marketing, even as seasoned marketers we sometimes wonder how effective that would be. We are not suggesting that you should drop advertising altogether, since that would be suicidal as well. The trick is therefore, understanding what advertising can really do for you, as opposed to be coerced into spending millions of advertising dollars without good thinking.

Advertising is about sustaining a brand. You may be an age-old brand with products that lasted years or even decades without much change. In this instance, advertising keeps you in the mindshare of customers.

However, if you have new products and services that have no market presence yet, and have no prior customer history or accolades, advertising will ring hollow even if you spend millions of dollars. In this instance, you need the power of “word-of-mouth”, or the power of publicity.

Many people imagine publicity as merely media relations, where you issue a few news releases to the media, send them thick binders of marketing collateral (otherwise known as a media kit), and chase these journalists relentlessly for publishing or airing stories about your company and its products and services. Some people also imagine publicity to be also about media conferences, where hordes of journalists are invited (and expected to turn up), and massive coverage is expected the next day.

Unfortunately, this won’t happen. Journalists are becoming much more wired than you think, and wire services also feed news directly to these journalists, short-circuiting your best intentions. At the same time, more and more media owners are laying off workers, including seasoned journalists and editors, leaving the much smaller teams to handle more work than ever before. Do you therefore, imagine that journalists will have as much time as before to attend less-than-important media conferences and briefings? Unlikely.

At the same time, your competition not only comes from your industry to compete for print space and air time, new competition are everywhere. New competition can come in the form of more prominent events, personalities, and news stories, all coinciding with the same time you are trying to pitch to the journalists. For example, when you are launching your latest gizmo today, and a terrorist strikes the same time somewhere else. Your media conference will have no media attendance while every journalist is drafted to cover the human casualties in the terrorist strike. Such is the harsh reality today.

Getting the authoritative voice of the media to help you reach out to customers, prospects, governments, partners, and stakeholders, is the key to your success, especially if you are on a tight budget. If you have only a thousand dollars to spend, make it work for you by investing in a publicity campaign.

The most critical thing to remember when you want to be heard by customers, prospects and the public, is that the media owners do not owe you free editorial space simply to air your advertising and sales pitches. We consistently see naïve executives and entrepreneurs believe that a single news release should result in front page news, or evening reports on prime time TV. Unless you have something newsworthy to say that will mean a great deal and impact the masses, forget it.

Copyright©2003 Seamus Phan & Ter Hui Peng. All rights reserved.