Leapfrogging the Competition: Dispelling Bias and Attacking the Heart of the Matter
One of the world’s most recognizable brands ceded PR leadership to their primary duopoly-market competitor: so long had the client ranked second, that even the CEO of this Fortune 100 company assumed that the company was a victim of “media bias” and that only a direct confrontation with journalists and editors would overcome their favoritism. A new SVP of Corporate Communications who hired PRIME for on-going corporate reputation tracking refused to accept this commonly held belief and used a “deep dive” analysis to determine a) whether evidence of bias even existed and b) what could be done to leapfrog the competition whether bias was present or not.
Objectives and Approach:
The SVP approached PRIME Research to quantify the quality and quantity of news coverage for the current and previous years to determine any evidence of systematic, intentional favoritism in news reporting. At the same time, PRIME fielded a survey among a core-set of journalists to assess the category’s public relations, to determine the extent to which any bias could be explained through root causes such as new-product introductions, general newsworthiness and other content-oriented drivers but also the degree to which the composition, skills and interactions of the two PR departments could be the cause of one-sided reporting.
The competitive media analysis and the journalist surveys were completed within six-weeks of initiation.
As a result of the assessment, the client agreed with PRIME’s findings that there was no systematic or intentional bias; in fact, the journalists preferred the “number 2” company in many ways including the quality of their public relations personnel who were found to be responsive, accessible and whom generally served the journalists’’ most important requirements. What was more, PRIME’s analysis of news coverage uncovered unique positioning opportunities which would clearly extend the client’s inherent advantages while addressing a core weakness. These key elements were:
- Emphasize the CEO as a key asset. Within the organization, the CEO was seen as “over-exposed.” The survey showed that the CEO was very popular among journalists and the media analysis assigned the CEO with the highest marks among ALL Fortune 100 CEOs (not just the competitor’s) yet other CEOs were more visible
- Underscore the company’s cross-category diversity. Unlike the competitor, the client had a more diverse product portfolio through which it could deliver more compelling corporate messages. Unfortunately, the brands operated autonomously and had not been required to support the corporate reputation through brand messaging.
- Push CSR messages: The client’s business made them the subject of potential negativity related to environmental and health claims. All companies were weak in these areas but the client had an opportunity to leverage compelling, credible story ideas to elevate their reputation and to distance themselves from the competition.
- Through the “deep dive” analysis, the CEO relented on the plan to tackle bias directly: a planned series of “confrontational” editorial board meetings were scrapped in favor of a more conciliatory approach to advance the CEO, promote the company’s product and brand diversity and to emphasize all the company was doing to promote the environment and good health.
- In terms of what drove the competitor’s coverage for many years, journalists reported that the competitor’s inclusion in the Dow Jones Industrial Average meant that they were included in more general economy stories. The media analysis confirmed over time that while the client generated more thorough, “high quality” feature stories and exclusives, the competitor tended to appear more often in round-up stories which are, by nature, less focused, shorter and of lesser impact. The client was advised to continue with this strategy.
- hrough the on-going study, the results showed that the three-pronged approach worked. One quarter following the CEO outreach, the three attributes dominated the client’s overall coverage which lead to an increase in overall reputation, so much so that they superseded the competition.
- The journalist survey provided the PR team with the guidance they needed to clearly differentiate themselves from the competition while instilling confidence and recognition throughout the company that they are “best in class.”