Publicity: Power and limits

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brad lamb tweets
Some of of the Twitter follow up to the story we published
Brad Lamb
Brad Lamb’s presentation on the development industry to the CSC Ottawa chapter received several re-tweets, to thousands of readers, on Twitter

Two recent examples reveal the power, and limitations, of publicity and media management. They show how simple things can result in surprising results, but how the results aren’t always what you expect or wish to happen.

In the first, Toronto condo developer Brad Lamb graciously accepted my invitation to speak to the Ottawa Construction Specification Canada chapter’s Connections Cafe in February. I also received “yes” answers from two other local development leaders, Jonathan Westeinde and Bernie Ashe. The event, according to several people who attended, proved to be truly successful. (I could not attend, as my mother died at age 89 a few days earlier, and I was in Vancouver for the funeral.)

brad lamb tweets
Some of of the Twitter follow up to the story we published

After the event, Ottawa Construction News publisher Tim Lawlor provided me with Lamb’s speaking notes, where he described in creative terms the incredible number of challenges a developer experiences in turning an idea into a profitable project. I requested permission to reprint, and we published the story in our printed publications and at GTA Constructionreport.com. Here is the relevant article: The developer’s story: Could anything go right?

Much to my surprise yesterday morning, I noticed a sudden spike in visitors. Once I dug into the traffic logs, I could see what happened. At least five others and possibly upwards of 10 had “Tweeted” and retweeted the story, one with a comment: “Probably the best article written for people to understand the development business.”

All of this publicity cost little. Of course, however, another question needs to be asked. Did any of us benefit from the attention? I suppose our business gained credibility both for my personal involvement in organizing the event and in pulling together an audience of important people, many of whom could do business with us now and in the future. Brad Lamb was in Ottawa at the time and undoubtedly he gains some reputation advantage within the development community (and his comments really shouldn’t cause any problems with the wider public.) However, we won’t sell much if any more advertising because of the publicity and I doubt Brad Lamb will sell more condominiums.  It’s “nice to have” publicity, but doesn’t make much difference.

I cannot “name names” in the second story, in part because I haven’t verified the facts yet, and secondly because it makes our business and the other relevant organization look less-than-perfect. We sold more than $20,000 in advertising for a special feature supplement just as a potentially major (and extremely controversial) story was breaking — at least in one media outlet — about the relevant organization. Maybe the other publisher got it wrong and the story isn’t as it has been published elsewhere. But didn’t think it right to investigate or research the story as we sold the ads and put the advertiser-approved feature together.

Did anyone purchase silence here?  Maybe, but to limited effectiveness, if so. The story, if true, is ongoing and there will be many months and much opportunity to handle follow-up. And we will. I’ve started with the important verification calls — I won’t speculate on rumours and certainly won’t regard the published report in one other media outlet as valid until I’ve checked at source. Of course, we’ll respect the integrity of the organization for which we wrote the special feature, but we’ll do it in the context of other sensitive stories in our industry. I’ll seek out the different “sides” and give them attention and respect. The relevant organization, of course, achieved some public relations value with a (I realize I’m being immodest here) a well-written and comprehensive report portraying its views and desired public image. We’re happy to work with other organizations on the same basis, of course. It is how we make our money.

Yes, publicity can be managed and controlled. You can sometimes drown out a potential problem with diversionary noise. In other situations, you may luck into some powerfully positive publicity because you speak frankly, straightforwardly and effectively on a topic of relevant expertise. Then again, you might be speaking to the converted, and so your candor — and the public recognition — really doesn’t help you directly. The benefits, here, of publicity are soft, indirect and truly hard to measure — if there are any real financial benefits, after all.

Meanwhile, as publishers, the contradictions here mount. We earned quite a bit of money by publishing a story that may have masked a deeper story — but the deeper story will ultimately be published. At the same time, we made not a cent in revenue from our community involvement and leadership, and the co-operation of Brad Lamb in speaking to the CSC audience. Yet, I don’t think we regret the contribution and opportunity to share an important and relevant message, and I believe the relations and reputation we’ve gained through the experience will help us in the future. Great publicity, after all, should achieve longer-range objectives.

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