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Rogier Heemskerk

Published on

December 15, 2015


advertising, agency, agency life, campaigns, creativity, Marketing, news, This Week in Social

Recently the Wall Street Journal published an article about companies targeting journalists with ads on Facebook.

The rational behind this approach is that targeting tools offered by social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter offer marketers, PR professionals and advertising agencies the ability to target people at specific media outlet at relatively low cost. With this approach they aim to earn coverage or to increase the awareness for their brand. Are Facebook ads an effective PR tool or is this just another gimmick that sounds interesting but does not deliver?

The media landscape has changed significantly and communication professionals continuously need to explore new ways to reach target audiences and to engage with influencers. Social media and visual content has become more important in storytelling and brands are increasingly aware of the fact that they need an integrated mix of paid, owned and earned media to achieve their communication objectives. Journalists have also embraced social media and search engines as a valuable source for information. Targeting can be incredibly specific, as this amusing prank illustrates. So let’s explore the added value of Facebook ads for PR.

The main arguments mentioned for using Facebook Ads for PR are: it is easy to target journalists; it is a good alternative for bombarding journalists with emails and phone calls and it is cheap. So apparently it is all about getting attention and this is exactly why I’m having second thoughts (to say the least) about using this tactic. Getting noticed by a journalist is important, but you need more to successfully pitch your story. You should be relevant, convincing and timely. If you don’t know what a journalist is looking for and you don’t interact with them, you’ll probably not succeed.

Journalists and social media

It’s true that journalists are using social media for news gathering. They follow online conversations, trending topics and use social media to connect with people. Journalists search for more insights on specific topics of interest and to stay up to date with the latest news. They are more likely to be influenced by content shared by the community and selected opinion leaders then through promoted content.

But these are just my first thoughts. Maybe I’m missing the point here. So how do journalists feel about this approach?

“I personally prefer the old style of pitching: send me something that you know is relevant to the beat I cover, addressed to me specifically. Otherwise it’s going into the trash bin. The very idea of paying to get your client’s ‘story’ noticed and then covered rubs me the wrong way. That is not earned media and it’s not really original reporting either.” — Patrick Coffee, Adweek staff writer, AgencySpy editor 

A tier-1 business journalist we know in the U.S. called the practice “kinda creepy” and said he’d have to be more cynical when looking at his Facebook feed.   

Visibility does not equal success

So does this mean that Facebook Ads can never work to ‘earn’ coverage? Of course not! When the Facebook Ad is part of a creative campaign, it could work. For example, when an ad-blocking software vendor uses Facebook Ads to convince a marketing journalist that more and more people are fed up with unwanted ads, this could very well work. However, in general you will need other tactics to increase the awareness and visibility of your brand.

Unfortunately, there is no ‘magic tool’ – and no substitution for good old fashioned hard work.

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