Many business people consider a "hit" in The Wall Street Journal as one of the best ways to get noticed. VC funded startups happily pay tens of thousands of dollars a month to public relations agencies to pitch them to reporters at the Journal and other important business publications like BusinessWeek and Fast Company. firms justify their fees when they secure a hit and show the press clips as proof of their skills when pitching new business.
For years I've been convinced that such exposure is overrated in terms of quantifiable measurements of success.
Now before I jump into an interesting analysis, I do want to say that there are many intangible benefits to being quoted in a major business publication or having your product talked about in them. You can put the information on your site and tell all your potential customers. It may convince an investor to jump in, an analyst firm to initiate coverage, or a potential employee to join the company. I am certainly not knocking the many benefits nor would I ever stop speaking with reporters when they call me. Coverage is important.
But what about the tangible results?
On Monday March 17, I was quoted in an article in the print edition of The Wall Street Journal. The article was titled "Attention, Bloggers: For small businesses that can't afford a lot of marketing, the blogosphere offers a cheaper alternative" and appeared on page R5 (the small business section of the paper). My full name (searching on it brings up only me) and my blog URL were both listed in the paper. The article was in my area of expertise and the things I write about in my books and this blog.
The article also appeared in the online Journal at WSJ.com (my blog URL was a hyperlink) together with a companion article called "Recommended Reading Small Business: Marketing With Social Media." In this piece, the WSJ asked Scott Monty for recommend a list of blogs and books for owners and managers at small companies looking to learn more about tapping social media to engage customers online. Scott mentioned my book The New Rules of Marketing & PR and said it is: "A must-read. Mr. Scott delves into strategies of how to reach consumers directly and how to get into the social-networking space." (Thank you Scott).
So what would you expect? Ten thousand extra links that day? More? A thousand books sold on Amazon that day? More? That's the sort of result that many people expect and why they spend so much on PR firms.
The reality is much more sobering.
Let's make a value of 100 as the baseline of the amount of blog traffic I got in an average day this month. On the day of the WSJ hit, I got a 95. That's right, on the day of my WSJ hit with my blog URL listed, I got fewer visitors to my blog than an average day in the month of March. My best day this month was March 5, the day after a post I wrote called "The new rules at universities – authors connecting with students." Lots of people shared that article and some wrote about it on their blogs. On March 5, I scored a 186 (almost twice my average traffic).
The best traffic driver to my blog this year was a result of the hundred or so bloggers who wrote about the publication of my latest ebook The New Rules of Viral Marketing. For several weeks after I published the ebook, my traffic was double the norm.
What about books sales? I'll use my Amazon ranking as a proxy for book sales. The Amazon rank, which updates every hour based on actual book sales, indicates what number your book is among all the millions of books that Amazon sells. Since its release in June 2007, The New Rules of Marketing & PR has consistently hovered in the 250 to 850 range. Early in the morning of the WSJ hit, the rank was about 600. It finished the day at about the same place (meaning that the relative sales rate for that day did not change as a result of the WSJ mention). As I write this on Thursday morning, the Amazon rank is 328, meaning that substantially more books are selling today than Monday when the article appeared. But during no day this week did my rank go above the typical range that it has been for the past nine months or so.
What can we learn from this?
> A hit in the WSJ and other big business publications is great—but not as great as you might think. If you get one, think about tangential benefits (like bragging rights), not actual sales. Think how you can leverage the notoriety, not just what will happen without your help to push it along. Use it to influence other media and analysts, don't just sit back and wait.
> There really isn't a holy grail of marketing & PR. The closest I've found is to create something yourself and publish it online to drive traffic. That blog post I put out had more success than the WSJ. The best thing I've ever done to drive traffic is write an ebook. The case examples I write about prove this theory.
> Lots of little hits are much better than one mega PR hit. Passionate bloggers drive traffic to my blog and help drive sales (thank you all!).
> Mega PR hits may drive some interest with what you do, but you should really think through if it will actually drive sales.
> Maybe, just maybe, WSJ readers buy books in physical bookstores instead of Amazon. Perhaps I'll see a sales bump at Barnes & Noble and other stores in March… But I doubt it.