“Pass the Heinz” Campaign Pours Out Earned Media Value

by Blattel Communications
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One of my favorite stories of late is Kraft Heinz’ intention to make a series of ads that Don Draper, of the fictional drama Mad Men, pitched on the show, which ended in 2015. The ads feature various shots of foods that are missing one element, Heinz ketchup. The tagline is, “Pass the Heinz.” Even with the news completely dominated by politics, major outlets devoted space to covering this instance of art-meets-reality. In The Washington Post, Allen Adamson, founder of BrandSimple Consulting, criticized Heinz for pursuing a billboard strategy in an era when people walk around stoop-necked looking at their phones:

“While they were effective in the ‘Mad Men’ days, people don’t linger that much with print ads,” Adamson said. “Today, you need to hit them between the eyes with a two-by-four to get their attention.”

Adamson isn’t wrong, but he is missing part of the point. While advertising campaigns are sometimes given full article treatment, it is rare. Kraft Heinz may be getting limited bang-for-its-buck buying signs in the sky (Paid Media Value), but it is getting tremendous Earned Media Value through stories like the one quoting Adamson.

The most rudimentary way of calculating Earned Media Value is to compare the cost of running a print ad of the same size as an article in a print version of a newspaper. In general, and almost always with publications such as the New York Times and the Post, this cost is many multiples of what was spent by marketing and communications agencies to promote the content in question. Bottom line: Kraft Heinz’ Earned Media Value was likely many times its Paid Media Value – rendering Adamson’s critique moot.

Kraft Heinz in January had a similarly spectacular Earned Media Value moment when it announced that it was giving all of its salaried employees the day off after the Super Bowl. For a telecast with spots costing $5 million for 30 seconds, the company may have garnered more publicity with its move than with a pitch for snacks or condiments during the game.

“Gotta get that publicity anyway you can, right?” asked Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal in his final note after a quick segment on the move. Exactly.

Kraft Heinz’ costs in these initiatives are not zero. The company is buying billboards and it absorbed the cost of the day off for employees after the big game. But, for many professional services organizations, media mentions come at low cost. When an attorney, accountant or architect is quoted by the Associated Press, they often appear in a hundred different publications across many media markets. When they appear on TV, they are sometimes on screen for more time than the local car dealerships that pay dearly to reach us all. And, top-tier publications offer two major benefits: exposure to a concentrated audience and an air of credibility and visibility that enhances the success of future media outreach efforts.

Scoring high Earned Media Value is a process, with statistics that best rival baseball, where a hit in three-out-ten plate appearances is considered success. As public relations professionals, we strike out a lot. Sometimes a reporter keeps a contact in mind and circles back later. (Call this a walk.) Other times the topic and resources line up perfectly for great results. But, most of the time is spent building incrementally. Media lists expand and contacts are tapped regularly. Not the sexiest thing we do, but very important and a pathway to success with proven results.

A good PR campaign produces Earned Media Value well above its cost and often well above commensurate advertising campaign costs. For professional services companies, PR campaigns drive thought-leadership, foster corporate and individual brand awareness, and ultimately, influence business retention and development.

While Kraft Heinz’ moves are extreme examples of Earned Media Value, there are many similar – if smaller – success stories just waiting to happen. The key is to design a forward-thinking gameplan and assemble a good team. And, just like baseball (top of mind as Opening Day draws closer), anticipate a long season. It takes 162 games to get to the World Series.

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