PR Data Reveals Sharp Decline, Profound Shift In Media Mix

If 2003 was a year of modest recovery in terms of "paid" media impressions - advertising - it was a year of precipitous decline in terms of the supply of "free" media impressions. News coverage of America's leading corporations fell 23 percent in 2003 compared with 2002, reflecting a marked shift in the focus of U.S. media outlets from news about business to other matters - presumably national security and the war in Iraq.

The findings, which come from a year-end analysis of media coverage of the Fortune 100 companies compiled by public relations researcher Delahaye, are fascinating from a PR point of view, interesting from a conventional media planning standpoint, but may be critically important from the perspective of communications planners who are responsible for managing the overall mix of a marketer's communications options, not just advertising.

Among other things, it means the top U.S. companies had a more difficult time getting their messages out in the news media, and may have to look more deeply at advertising and other communications options for making up the gap.



The Fortune 100's PR Media Mix

Newspapers Magazines Television
2003 71.5% 5.1% 23.4%
2002 52.7% 4.3% 43.0%

Source: Delahaye's Media Reputation Index. A collaboration with the Reputation Institute.

In fact, the PR impressions decline was even more pronounced for some individual companies. Merrill Lynch, for example, saw its news media coverage decline by more than half in 2003, the most precipitous drop of the top 10 companies in terms of media coverage. Merrill Lynch ranked sixth in news media coverage during 2003. IBM, which ranked 10th, saw its news coverage decline by 46.9 percent, while Intel (ranked 7th) declined 42.7%. Tech companies, also including Microsoft (ranked No. 2), generally rank high in total news media volume because they are key bellwethers of the economy and the vitality of Wall Street, says K.C. Brown, vice president-research at Delahaye, and chief analyst of its Media Reputations Index (MRi), which tracks the volume, tone and effect of news media coverage on leading corporations.

Other news media biggies include big industrials like Boeing (No. 9h), as well as AT&T (No. 8), General Motors (No. 5), Time Warner (No. 4), Wal-mart (No. 3 and Walt Disney Co. (No. 1). In fact, only two of the top 10 Walt Disney (+17.3 percent) and Wal-mart (+2.2 percent) experienced increases in news coverage during 2003.

Disney, which sustained a tremendous public relations fallout from its boardroom battles and a heavy negative spin campaign by former board member Roy Disney, actually ranked No. 1 in both news volume and corporate "net effect," a measure developed by Delahaye and the Reputation Institute to show the impact that news volume and tone has on the underlying esteem of a corporation. Delahaye's Brown says he was surprised at first to see those results, but after drilling into the data realized that there were far more positive stories about Disney's core product - especially the success of two hit films "Finding Nemo" and "Pirates of the Caribbean" - that more than offset the negative boardroom stories.

In fact, the overall esteem of corporate America improved dramatically from 2002, when the residue of corporate scandals continued to plague news media coverage of corporate America. The so-called "net effect" of news media coverage of the Fortune 100 improved 210 percent in 2003.

Meanwhile, communications planners will be eager to pore through the MRi data to understand the implications that declining PR impressions have on their corporate clients, as well as the impact on their media mix.

In an especially surprising development, Delahaye also found that not only did the size of the corporate news hole decline markedly between 2002 and 2003, but the mix of media also changed dramatically. Newspapers always account for the lion's share of corporate news coverage, but television, which represented a 43.0 percent share of corporate news stories in 2002, fell to 23 percent in 2003. Most of that share went to newspapers and some to magazines (see table above). This likely reflects a pronounced shift in the focus of TV news coverage from domestic business stories to national security and foreign war coverage. By comparison, the so-called business "news wells" of print media - especially newspapers - tend to be relatively constant in size.

Delahaye's Brown says there may be another ironic corollary between advertising and PR at work. Many print media outlets that were still hurting from the advertising recession in 2003, may have cut back on their editorial coverage due to cutbacks in advertising pages.

Top Ten's 2003 PR Media Mix: Number Of Stories By Medium

Newspapers Magazines Television Total Vs. '02
Disney 13,416 422 1,736 15,574 +17.3%
Microsoft 9,284 911 3,808 14,003 -31.4%
Wal-mart 9,345 584 3,643 13,572 +2.2%
Time Warner 7,871 518 2,588 10,977 -34.2%
General Motors 8,209 502 1,921 10,632 -9.1%
Merrill Lynch 5,605 521 2,400 8,526 -53.3%
Intel 3,744 429 3,854 8,027 -42.7%
AT&T 5,438 391 1,632 7,461 -37.7%
Boeing 5,430 311 1,553 7,294 -22.1%
IBM 4,568 598 2,093 7,259 -46.9%

Source: Delahaye's Media Reputation Index. In collaboration with the Reputation Institute.
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