Pay for Play

In marketing communications, there is no more important (and often misunderstood) term than ROI, or return on investment.  We all want to know our money is being wisely spent, that we have results to show for our communications activities, and that such results are meeting the overall organizational goals.

In PR, a common mistake is thinking that media coverage is success.  But if you can’t translate that coverage into increased sales, increased enrollment, increased membership, or increased donations, has the communications really met the organizational goal?

This is particularly true in education.  Companies pay big money to advertise in education trade publications, exhibit at conferences and events, and just to get its organizational name or product associated with the big education story or education reform trend out there.  While it may result in media coverage, such coverage is often gained at the expense of the brand and the value proposition.

That’s what makes today’s NY Times article on the Sustainable Operations Summit all the more interesting (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/10/education/10summit.html?_r=1&oref=slogin).  The story is simple to tell.  Sign up as a sponsor of the Summit, and organizers (CraigMichaels Inc. is the brainchild here) will guarantee 15 one-on-one meetings with decisionmakers from school districts or IHEs across the country.

At first blush, some may find the approach a little unseemly.  But if you get under the hood, you see the effectiveness of the communications vehicle.  You ensure that you are delivering your message directly to those who can make a decision.  You are positioned to directly address their concerns and solve the problems that are keeping them up at night.  And you have the ability to tailor your discussion directly to their demographics, needs, and expected outcomes.  That, boys and girls, is almost the textbook definition of effective communications.

We all know it is harder and harder to get one’s message through to those we need to reach.  There are too many filters, too many barriers, and too much white noise to be eternally effective.  As long as the audience knows what it is signing up for (such as committing to attend such one-on-one marketing pitches), where’s the harm?  It is far more transparent than off-site conference events or the junkets that have plagued the medical industry for years.

No matter what tactic or approach one uses to deliver the message, at the end of the day, success only comes when you have a strong message, strong proof, and a compelling story.  For education reform organizations and companies, change doesn’t come from a one-on-one meeting.  Yes, such meetings may open the door.  But you can only keep it open if you can deliver and demonstrate, with consistency, that you are improving learning and student performance.  And ain’t that a great conversation starter for those one-on-ones?  


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