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Earned, Owned…and Paid? It’s all Part of PR

This is a post by PR columnist, Alison Kenney.

PR first moved into the ‘social space’ by creating and promoting content. ‘Content is king!’ And, ‘if you build it (i.e. deliver great content) they will come (i.e. audiences will flock to your brand page).’ Now the writing is on the wall (to use another trite expression) and it’s no longer enough to post great content on social. It’s become a pay-for-play world for brands that want to get their messages heard on social networks as this Social Media Explorer post explains.

How do PR pros bridge the paid and earned media services in their PR programs?

Although there is still a lot of education to be done, most clients are already integrating paid social media strategies in their PR programs. As this AdAge article puts it, PR firms that integrate paid media with social media are demonstrating a “natural extension of their evolving content-marketing strategies.”

George Snell, SVP, digital at Weber Shandwick, says that virtually all of the clients in WS’s Boston office have content marketing or digital/social marketing strategies in their programs. Snell says there are also a few WS clients that don’t have any traditional PR tactics in their programs.

According to Snell, the key to getting your message heard is building the right distribution plan. And, while the paid opportunities you pursue might include creating an ad for a social network, they can also include promoting or sponsoring a post to distribute your content.

As Snell puts it, “It’s really no different from the way PR has been working in the past; it’s just that now there’s a paid component. PR pros have always been in the business of distributing content through earned and owned media. Now, we’re doing the same thing but with some new components. Content is at the center of the strategy – we can pitch that content to reporters (earned media) or promote it on our blog, site or newsletter (owned media) or look at the many paid opportunities to distribute it.”

Digital communications consultant Arik Hanson says his clients are excited by the targeting and measurement capabilities offered by paid social media tactics. Even brands that aren’t experienced with paid social tactics see the light when Hanson walks them through comparative strategies. “I’ll ask them how their last ad buy with print media went – how much they spent and what the results were. The total number of impressions may be larger with print, but you’re not sure who those readers are. With Facebook ads or promoted or sponsored posts you can target the reach to an exact person. Social advertising will kill you with numbers.”

Both Hanson and Snell say that keeping up with the rapidly changing aspects of paid social opportunities is a big challenge. “I use it every day and, in the beginning, I had a question every day,” says Hanson. “But there’s no one you can call at Facebook. Anyone who isn’t a Fortune 100 company isn’t getting any customer service there.” (He says Twitter is much more customer-friendly.)

How do PR pros incorporate paid opportunities in their PR programs?

“Talk to the right person,” says Hanson. He says his clients aren’t always PR people – in one case he works directly with a community engagement manager. And Snell agrees that there are more than just PR people in the room these days. His agency finds itself up against advertising and interactive agencies when they pitch new business.

Let the numbers speak for you. “You can lay claim to a lot more than you could ever get with traditional advertising or PR,” says Hanson, so use the digital nature of the media and its ability to track metrics to your advantage.

Don’t forget the basics. No one should tack on social media strategies that aren’t tied to overall goals for reaching specific audiences. To determine what tactics are right for you or your client, consider your goals, your audiences and where they are and their communication preferences, as well as how social media can bolster your other marketing communication strategies.

What other strategies do you use to integrate paid media in your PR program?

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on You can find her at www.kprcommunications.comLearn more about Alison Kenney.


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