How Communications from The Sunday Times Hijacked the Lance Armstrong Story

It must be a weird quandary for media properties.

On one hand, their journalistic mission can result in contentious interactions with PR professionals.

On the other hand, like any company they invest in the PR function in hopes of “swaying” their journalistic brethren to write about them in a positive light.

As a stand-alone journalist, Julian Assange showed PR savvy and moxie when Wikileaks first hit the fan even if his Don Quixotic quest eventually ran aground.

But you don’t often see clever communications from a major media property and genuine aggressiveness.

That’s why The Sunday Times communications strike to capitalize on the Oprah interview of Lance Armstrong caught my attention.

It offers a good example of blending earned and paid media.

The strategy started with provocative content.

In this case, The Sunday Times chief sports writer, David Walsh, put together a list of 10 questions that Oprah could “borrow” in her interview with Lance.

How Communications from The Sunday Times Hijacked the Lance Armstrong Story image Picture1 12 zps569b3387How Communications from The Sunday Times Hijacked the Lance Armstrong Story

At this point, the conventional approach would find the PR team reaching out to heavyweight media targets with the letter and an offer to talk with Walsh. Instead, The Sunday Times placed a full page ad in the Chicago Tribune – kind of cheeky to hit Oprah in her backyard – with the 10 questions.

The ad triggered a spike of coverage that included mass media plays like the Huffington Post and MSN News.

Social channels worked their magic as well. You can see the multiplier effect in action from just one tweet from Richard Deitsch, a writer for Sports Illustrated with almost 70K followers, which prompted 177 retweets.

How Communications from The Sunday Times Hijacked the Lance Armstrong Story image Capture zps492041dcHow Communications from The Sunday Times Hijacked the Lance Armstrong Story

And again, this is just one person in the social cavalcade supporting The Sunday Times campaign.

I put a note into Jessica Carsen, director of editorial communications at The Times (sounds so much better than PR) asking about quantifying the reach of the campaign, but didn’t hear back from her. Perhaps the paper isn’t keen to share this story.

Even without the hard numbers, it seems safe to conclude mission accomplished.

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