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PR professionals seem to embrace an air of superiority when it comes to the owned/earned/paid debate.

PRs have traditionally crafted stories that win or lose by their storytelling craft. If the story isn't powerful enough then the journalist will slam the phone down in a rage and never speak to you again.

Whereas on the paid side of the fence, the feeling is that content with a big media budget behind it can reach (or be pushed in front of) a wider audience, whether or not it is any good. And that that's just wrong.

Truths and flaws abound on both sides of this summary.

Why bother paying?

Then there's the more recent argument that, in a digitally connected world, there is no need for paid media. If you build something awesome, then they will come.

Again, it's an incomplete and shortsighted conclusion.

Great paid media campaigns can get earned results and earned campaigns can be boosted significantly by paid investment and integration.

Digital changes the game and makes integration even more relevant, driven by the business models of the leading online platforms and networks.

In many cases, it's practitioners in the earned/owned sphere that need to adapt otherwise they'll very quickly miss out.

Amplification

The irony is that earned media experts have a clear advantage. They know how to construct a story that will resonate with an audience.

But, by ignoring the paid amplification opportunity, the results are never going to be as successful.

Take Facebook's Sponsored Stories. It's the success of the earned campaign that is then boosted by paid amplification. Both earned and paid working together in an integrated way.

The fact that many of the most lauded social media campaigns of recent years have been turbo-charged by paid media is something that many seem to see as a 'dirty little secret' and especially those that come from the earned side of the fence.

We're not used to asking our bosses or clients for media budgets and so it feels wrong or in some way 'cheating'.

Paid media FTW

The changing nature of paid media, especially through social channels, is making the argument for linking earned and paid more and more relevant. Advanced targeting, analysis and attribution.

This requires a different mindset. An agile approach, where earned media success is analysed and monitored in real-time so that paid media amplification strategies can be deployed.

But the benefits are clear:

  • Increased reach.
  • Improved targeting, ensuring you reach the right people.
  • Analysis and data feedback to inform real-time or future campaigns.

The two practices can learn from each other.

What do your paid campaigns tell you about your target audience? Where they are?

What does your earned media approach tell you about content and topics that resonate?

A balancing act

There is always a danger that we will go too far the other way. Paid media is not an excuse for us to lose the rigors of achieving content and storytelling excellence.

More often than not in my experience, paid media is managed poorly and is seen as a lazy way to get results (which comes back to the original point).

If the success of social activity relies on two key areas - great storytelling (by creating great, compelling content) and the distribution of these stories (via earned and paid strategies) - then an integrated approach is vital.

And this is all just a long way of saying that thinking in terms of these silos of paid, earned and owned just doesn't work anymore.

Great content deserves great (targeted) reach. Now that it's possible, can you afford to miss out?

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Published 10 July, 2013 by Danny Whatmough

Danny Whatmough is Head of Digital, EMEA Consumer at Weber Shandwick. He can be found on TwitterGoogle+  and blogs at dannywhatmough.com.

21 more posts from this author

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Phil Szomszor (theredrocket)

Depends how you're defining 'paid media'. Personally, I think that PR is built on a foundation of 'earned' coverage and telling stories, and when it strays into advertising it gets sticky, because it's a different skill-set and mentality. Sure, I'll do the odd PPC campaign, but it's usually pretty tactical and in support. And yes, content creation involves paying for generation of videos, infographics, blogs etc., but it's still based on getting a story across.

almost 3 years ago

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Danny Whatmough, Associate social media and digital director at Ketchum

You're right Phil - it's a broad area.

I guess my key point here is that, in terms of amplification, paid support can be a very effective way to build awareness and engagement in the right way.

Yes, it's tactical, but I don't think that's a negative.

For me, the future lies in keeping all options open and not restricting ourselves or our campaigns by a 'that's how we've always done it' mindset.

I'm not saying PRs need to necessarily implement paid strategies and become advertising experts (far from it in fact), but should at least integrate paid media into campaign planning (where it makes sense) and work with partners/upskill/hire in order to be able to implement effectively.

almost 3 years ago

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Max Kellett

Good article. I do agree that the distinction between the paid/earned world has become increasingly blurred and that whoever manages to really integrate their campaigns will be see much better results than those just focusing on one area.

Big consumer brands have been running these sorts of campaigns for a while - Lynx Space Academy for example, where advertising, social, and PR all work simultaneously to provide multiple touchpoints and different content that connects with different audiences. All this can be backed up by real-time data analysis that allows for on-the-fly creativity in reaction to current events or trends as well as improved targeting etc.

My question would be, who owns the strategy behind this? Would it be Ad Planners, PR's, digital strategists or a combination of all three?

almost 3 years ago

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Max Kellett

Good article. I do agree that the distinction between the paid/earned world has become increasingly blurred and that whoever manages to really integrate their campaigns will be see much better results than those just focusing on one area.

Big consumer brands have been running these sorts of campaigns for a while - Lynx Space Academy for example, where advertising, social, and PR all work simultaneously to provide multiple touchpoints and different content that connects with different audiences. All this can be backed up by real-time data analysis that allows for on-the-fly creativity in reaction to current events or trends as well as improved targeting etc.

My question would be, who owns the strategy behind this? Would it be Ad Planners, PR's, digital strategists or a combination of all three?

almost 3 years ago

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Danny Whatmough, Associate social media and digital director at Ketchum

I've written about the ownership debate before. For me, increasingly, it doesn't really matter what you call yourself or your agency. If you can demonstrate the skills, experience and expertise to develop strategy, create content and/or execute, then you have every right to be in the mix. Some can do it all, others specialise in a certain niche, but in both cases true integration will get the best results in my opinion.

almost 3 years ago

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Curious George

"Slammed the phone down in a rage and never spoke to you again" because "your storytelling wasn't powerful enough"?
Whoa, calm down there, big fella!

Firstly, journalists rarely if ever 'slam the phone down in a rage' -- no matter how annoying and trivial PR people and their pitches become -- and second of all, we don't rely on you guys either for our stories or for the storytelling. Anyway, our bosses, on the whole, would kill us!

What we generally find lacking, actually, in PR is sufficient attention to the facts....

So, no surprises there, then.

almost 3 years ago

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Richard Hamer

I can't think of any client I've worked with that would have been happy to employ a PR agency and then pay for coverage.

almost 3 years ago

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Danny Whatmough, Associate social media and digital director at Ketchum

Thanks Curious George.

Apologies for the dramatic effect.

The point here isn't the journalist versus PR debate - that has been covered (yawningly) in much detail elsewhere.

The point is that PRs (compared to other marketing professionals) traditionally live or die by the quality of the story they put together to pitch (and, yes, of course attention to facts plays a part here). Clearly journalists shouldn't rely on PRs to construct a story, but I've always found that putting a pitch in the context of a wider picture/story is key to success.

almost 3 years ago

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Danny Whatmough, Associate social media and digital director at Ketchum

Hi Richard. Apologies if I wasn't clear. This definitely isn't about paying for coverage. But it is about exploring ways in which earned and owned media can be amplified by paid techniques. E.g. you achieve great (earned) engagement on Facebook and then use Sponsored Stories (paid) to amplify the effect of this in a way that wouldn't be possible in other ways.

almost 3 years ago

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