It used to be that media relations and advertising were two distinct categories; media relations dealt strictly with earned media coverage while advertisers paid for airtime or column inches. But the media industry has been completely disrupted in recent years, so media relations and PR are evolving. As new technologies and applications emerge, communications pros need to change with them.
One of the biggest trends in the PR industry is the growing importance of paid PR. With newsrooms shrinking and traditional, earned media coverage becoming increasingly difficult to garner, PR pros are looking for alternative ways to place their messages in front of target audiences. New ad tech has given us new tools to do just that, which has shown the merits of using paid PR in conjunction with earned media campaigns. And there are quite a few merits. For one, paying for coverage gets way more eyeballs on your content and allows for it to reach a much wider audience than it would otherwise. And ultimately, isn’t that the point of any PR initiative? For another, paid PR also allows the organization to have more control of the direction and tone of the story. It grants the freedom to highlight points of note (i.e. key messages) and portray your organization in a favourable light for relatively small budgets (sometimes as little as a few hundred dollars). One of the most valuable aspects of paid PR is that it is easy to quantify and provides clear ROI for organizations. With PR long being considered an industry that could not guarantee results or clearly demonstrate ROI, this is a major step towards being able to convert PR efforts into hard, quantifiable results.
There are many different ways to incorporate paid PR in your strategy. One of the most popular ways is to use paid social media. With the prevalence of social media, this is bound to get you the reach that would prove elusive organically. Another effective method is using tools such as Google Display and Google Text Ads. Whatever the means though, it is important to make sure that the content is presented in a way that tells a story and still draws in the audience in an authentic way.
CN Rail has been using paid PR effectively recently. Faced with an ousted CEO, the inability to complete shipments and criticisms over service, the company decided to incorporate paid PR into their communications. Using a combination of paid and earned PR to push out positive news stories and releases, CN Rail ensured that their key messages were being relayed to a mass audience.
As with anything, there are also drawbacks. Traditionally, the PR industry’s value lies with garnering earned or organic media. This type of coverage is important because it fosters more trust within the audience as opposed to a paid advertisement. Adding paid PR to the mix may take away from the transparency of the industry and cause people to view it with the same mistrust as they would a traditional ad.
The power of earned media should not be underestimated. It remains the most credible and authentic way to reach an audience. But the times, they are a-changin’ and communicators need to adapt accordingly. According to Neilsen, 70 per cent of respondents trusted brand-managed websites, making it the second-most trusted advertising format and 56 per cent trusted the emails they had signed up for. Ultimately, earned media is a PR firm’s bread and butter but supplementing that with paid PR is the key for maximum effectiveness.