Ten reasons why your competitor is getting more coverage than you

Companies get different amounts of media coverage. For everyone but the top dog this is a cause of frustration. Normally that frustration earths itself in the PR department. Questions are asked – what is the source of this injustice? Well, here are ten to start with:

1. It doesn’t have to be fair – Media interest in a company does not have to reflect commercial success, technical innovation, charisma, managerial excellence or track record. Your widget may indeed be better, but the media is not duty bound to reflect that. That’s no its mandate or raison d’etre. You’re making a mistake if you think all press coverage must be objective in tone and volume, and that an injustice has been done to you if you’re not getting your share.

2. Fortunes wax and wane – there will be times when you get more coverage than your competitors. Around a big announcement for instance. At other times, when they have the news, it’ll be their turn to shine. Don’t compare your trough with their peak – take an average over time, say six months to a year.

3. Some companies are bigger than others – the bigger the company, the more news it will have in general. There’s just more going on. David shouldn’t complain that Goliath’s clothes don’t fit. Now, I don’t mean a small company can’t get a disproportionate amount of press attention. Far from it. But recognize that has to be the exception not the rule.

4. Some companies are better than others – this is a hard admission, I know, but regretfully some companies are just better than others. They have a better product, they’re more organized, they have a sharper message, better spokespeople. Sometimes your competitor kicks your butt in sales because it’s faster, cheaper, better. Same in PR. Leaving the Kool Aid behind, in the cold light of day – are you really as good as them?

5. Some companies put more effort into PR than others – all things being equal, your competitor may win the PR war if they simply allocate more resources to the program. More staff, more PR spend, greater attention, more commitment, a higher priority. If they do that, they should get more coverage. If you do it, so should you. Do you know what their PR spend is for instance?

6. They started sooner – as a rule, you’ll get more coverage in your second year of a PR program than the first, and for every year thereafter as your profile increases. In the PR race, some companies start their investment earlier than others (perhaps they were founded 12 months prior) and so they reap the rewards of those efforts. Not to say you can’t catch up, but just recognize the race didn’t start under the same starting gun.

7. They have a press magnet – regardless of corporate performance, some people are more press-friendly than others. There are people who naturally use soundbites, are personable, have vision, are great connectors, make themselves available and just have that ‘it factor’. If your competitor has someone like this – try to poach them and you’ll win that magnetism. Meantime, recognize that this is as much about the person, as the company. And congrats to your competitor for hiring them.

8. Your message is wrong – you might have all the ingredients of a great campaign, but you’re firing blanks. Take a look at the press releases, pitches, web site – does it resonate with what the media is looking for? Are you current? Are you giving the media what they want or just what you want them to hear? A good indicator of a problem here is if the interviews you hold, don’t ink. You’ve got the opps, but you’re missing the target.

9. Your mechanism is wrong – it could be that you’re saying the right thing, but in the wrong way to the wrong people. The PR engine may be misfiring. Take a look at how long it takes to get a press release written, approved and out the door. If you’re looking at more than a week, including the icy finger of legal review, that’s a warning sign. Ditto for arranging press interviews – if you’re not booking them sameday and then find you repeatedly re-arrange, that’s a problem. Your PR engine is generating heat, not light.

10. Your team is wrong – some PR departments are better than others, some agencies are better. It could be that you have the wrong team implementing the right program. If your competitor has a better agency, and all else is equal, they’ll win. Thankfully the signs here are fairly clear in terms of understanding, speed of response, accuracy, availability, team churn, media contacts, and quality of counsel. This is often the starting point when there’s an issue. Sometimes, the cause is right there, but sometimes, it’s worth looking a little deeper – even if that’s uncomfortable.

  • Morgan, what a fantastic post. All your points are spot on. Most of them are things I’ve said or thought before, but never in such a clear, lucid, structured way. The media magnet one is one that you’ve reminded me exists!
    What’s your opinion on using share of voice as an evaluation tool. It’s one we find particularly useful, but it only works with some clients. Its main benefit is that it is easy for clients to understand, but not as simplistic or dumb as AVEs which unfortunately some clients still ask for.

  • Nice post Morgan – you certainly do a good line in “Top 10’s”!
    I think it’s important to think about how the client organisation can become more PR centric and I’d definitely be interested in seeing your thoughts on that as well.
    It could be as simple as putting in a target number of appearances in the key publications as an evaluation for the spokespeople in their end of year evaluations. This would force the people in the organisation to come up with interesting, thought provoking and industry leading things to say.
    All of which are vital in this new world of ‘no control PR’!

  • H. C.

    Great list, but one very obvious one that is not pointed out (of course, only for org leaders who are not as media savvy) – the competitor’s been getting negative coverage! Believe or not, there are quite a few instances when we have to explain that competitors getting onto Nightline and Mother Jones is not necessarily a good thing.

  • Hate to disagree but what exactly is this numbers game all about? Surely the issue is quality not quantity. Relationships are built one persion at a time – not by the scattergun method. Aren’t they?

  • Stuart – wow – thanks for the kind words. Share of voice evaluation suffers from many of the above I think. If you are getting twice the coverage in terms of quantity and quality but spending ten times the budget and management time on PR – is that good? Share of voice, does rather assume a level playing field which does not exist. Of course it looks good for board meetings, and if you know you are at a disadvantage competitively (smaller, younger, lower budget) and winning on SOV then you can certainly demonstrate you are getting competitive advantage through the PR.
    Ed – thanks for that. Getting companies to become more PR-centric is a challenge. Putting press involvement in individuals’ MBOs is a good idea for senior staff. Talking to the sales team is another. Meeting the engineering team another. Getting good results which conculsively lead to sales another. It’s probably worth a post in its own right!
    HC – classic. Yes, sometimes you really have to start at the beginning. Many years ago I had a client screaming blue murder at me, he even threw his cell phone at me in rage, because his competitor was getting coverage on a web site. I asked him to point it out to me. He loaded up his browser and pointed to the page in question. It was the competitor’s own corporate site and he was pointing to one of their press releases!
    Den – sure relationships are built one person at a time. I think quantity is important in raising awareness of new companies, brands and products/services. First you have to become aware of the name of the firm/product. That’s a numbers game. Quality becomes important with more complex messages and more involved sales processes. For instance, if I was doing PR for ‘FreeCreditCheck.com’ you only need to know the name, so quantity is more important than quality.
    I think you need a balance of both – and the balance changes depending on the company, the awareness of their sector and its proposition, the objective of the PR program, PR resources etc. So some sniper and some shotgun.

  • Morgan – just wanted to underscore some of the things stated above. Articulate, lucid summary of key reasons a client might not be getting coverage.