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Many companies will invest considerable effort seeking positive publicity via influential media sources—and then fail to benefit from the masthead value of that exposure.

Masthead was originally a seafaring term for the brass plate attached to a ship's mainmast that memorialized its owners and builders. A publication's masthead lists the names of current editorial and production staff. The industry term "masthead value" can be defined broadly as the level of stature, credibility, and influence associated with a specific media source. The Wall Street Journal, for example, has high masthead value; the Wall Street Transcript... not so much.

Masthead value can be relative. A respected trade or professional publication in a particular industry may have greater masthead value—in terms of its influence with a particular audience—than high-value publications such as the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. For example, physicians are likely to assign the New England Journal of Medicine greater masthead value than the Journal or Times on topics relating to the clinical care of patients.

Masthead value should drive your publicity strategy. A placement from a single highly respected source can be far more valuable than a dozen placements from a low-masthead value source. Because gaining inherent third-party endorsements is the ultimate goal, quality always trumps quantity.

Here are four ways to get the most from media placements with strong masthead value.

1. Put high-value placements directly in front of your target audiences

Even if coverage of you appears on the front page of the Wall Street Journal or makes the cover of Fortune magazine, don't assume it will be read by clients, prospects, referral sources... or even your employees. Too much offline and online noise means you can't ensure that any media exposure on its own will gain the attention you're seeking.

If you've developed an internal customer relationship management-driven discipline to communicate directly and regularly with target audiences, then you're well prepared to apply that distribution capability to increase the chances that decision-makers will notice, remember, and respond to your high-value exposure. (If you lack that discipline, your time may be best spent building an effective distribution capability before seeking additional publicity.)

2. Avoid 'hey, look at me!' self-promotion

Pickup from a media source with high masthead value provides some reason for high-fives internally, but it should not serve as a platform for self-promotion. Extreme examples of that error include companies that issue a press release, or generate tweets (Twitter) and status updates (Facebook) to announce, for example, that their CEO has been profiled in Inc. magazine.

Such overreaction to high-value publicity suggests to target audiences that you were surprised to receive the media endorsement, and, therefore, you may not have really deserved it.

The key is to showcase the media exposure in a relevant context (you may need to create that context), to make the media placement secondary to the underlying content (e.g., the reasons your CEO was profiled in Inc.), and to pull off those tasks with a matter-of-fact level of self-confidence.

3. For greater impact, rank graphics over content

Many people are surface readers. Online visitors are more likely to scan images, heads, subheads, and captions than they are to read body copy. (Long blocks of copy on websites that require scrolling are rarely read.)

If you've earned a placement with high masthead value, you can increase the likelihood of your company's being associated with the "endorsing" publication by displaying its logo with the capsule description and linking to the placement. To be clear: the critical element is the logo. If your placement is from the New York Times, for example, replicate its logo—as it appears on the front page of that publication.

Simply typing "from the New York Times," or a similar attribution, is—based on how people gather information—about 75% less effective than actually depicting the New York Times logo.

4. Prominently showcase high-value placements

If you've succeeded in generating media placements with high masthead value, why make it difficult for target audiences to find those placements on your website?

Rather than burying influential publicity in an obscure "In the News" section of your website that requires multiple clicks for visitors to locate, amortize your investment in publicity (and perhaps improve your website's bounce rate) by creating a location for those high-value items on your homepage.

That content can remain fixed or it may be refreshed regularly. You can extend the shelf life of each placement by not including its publication date.

* * *

By limiting your publicity efforts to media placements with high masthead value, and by ensuring that those placements are effectively merchandized via direct communication, social media tools, and proper website visibility, public relations (PR) practitioners will spend far less time worrying about the return on investment of PR.

The fruits of their labor will be self-evident in tangible business metrics, ranging from lead generation to high search-engine page rankings.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gordon G. Andrew is managing partner of Princeton, NJ based Highlander Consulting and blogger-in-chief at Marketing Craftsmanship. He can be reached via gordon@highlanderconsulting.com.