When Every Company Is Now A Media Company, PR Should Lead
Valeria Maltoni recently shared her thinking on why PR is misunderstood and misapplied. Her rationale makes sense and overall I agree with her thoughts. After the why, she lists a brief section on areas of opportunity. The areas she lists are (summarized):
- Developing community relations further
- Elevating analytics reporting
- Building an online platform for the organization
- Listening and learning
However I think all of this can be explained even simpler. The key area of opportunity in PR is staring nearly every company in the face. Simply: the fact that every company is now a media company. It’s not a new concept, many are trying it but few have actually organized themselves around it.
When you switch your communications strategy to revolve primarily around owned channels (vs. placed or paid) you advance PR from something inherently tactical to one far more strategic: pull PR.
I’m not saying throw away placed or paid – they still fit within a communications strategy. But they are now secondary to owned, in fact, they should be designed to support it.
Most PR is still centered around placed/earned media. There are inherent problems with this if you’re looking for increasing returns of any digital metrics month over month. Without being a publisher there is no funnel to grow an audience, scale trust/influence/authority, acquire links, subscribers and a community — and trend up long term.
Speaking of trending, data is no longer the domain of just marketers, PR should be equally accountable for increasing objective metrics and relevant KPIs month over month. It’s extremely difficult to do this without being a media company yourself in addition to pushing messages out there. You have a whole lot less control over web analytics growth if you are not self-publishing. The lines have already been blurred between marketing, PR and media; embrace it or ignore it.
So if you’re with me that the opportunity is for companies to embrace being a media company (if not, here are some more reasons why) let’s go through some of the ways companies can do this right.
This is the first and foremost reason most companies and agencies fail. They underestimate the effort required, try to go cheap/cut corners or simply don’t devote enough (or the correct) human resources to the effort. Yet when you look at examples of companies that have their own brands of digital media even more popular than pure media companies, (a few are referenced in my primer on content marketing) you’ll note they have dedicated resources from a revenue, team member and time standpoint.
Create a workflow between owned, paid, and placed/earned
Being a media company is not a tactical effort. You’ll need a fleshed out strategy in place directing how owned, paid, placed/earned work together. There should be a logical flow between these that makes sense to accomplish your specific objective — whether that’s qualified leads, registrants, sales, or other outcome metrics. Think all the way through to outcomes, but also be open to adjusting as you may find certain KPIs become outcomes you didn’t realize were that valuable at the start. To achieve the highest results, this is going to break down barriers and force collaboration between agencies and teams. Put egos aside and make this happen if you want to win.
Gain the executive perspective on content
Most PR pros are used to others having control of attention. That’s why they celebrate placements, because they don’t view themselves or clients as media. They try to capitalize on existing trends, leverage contacts/relationships and fit their ideas within someone else’s sandbox. This is not an easy skill, it is honed over years of experience: which is why traditional PR continues to do well. There’s also a symbiotic relationship between good PR people and media.
With that said, with placed media your control is limited. When you are a publisher, you have absolute control over messages. You can frame stories in any angle you wish, purposefully create enemies, own the creative direction – it’s limitless. But to succeed you need to understand the competition, have an audience acquisition strategy and long term vision of ideas, concepts and trends you’d like to paint a story of to influence your market. This is not not just publishing random ideas that tie back to a brand or product in some way, it involves thinking like an editor.
It may be easier short-term to rent the channels of others, but long-term the value proposition of owned media becomes clear. With that said, make them both work together.
Embrace creativity and data
I mentioned metrics several times in this post with a purpose – modern media companies are extremely metrics driven. They have to be. Metrics are critical for achieving additional advertising revenue. They drive the editorial calendar. They help show which writers are creating ideas which resonate organically (and compensate those writers accordingly or enable them to provide knowledge-transfer to other team members). They provide information to guide SEO activities.
With that said, the best brands of media are extremely creative and passionate about what they’re doing. Again, they have to be. In a world where no one has a monopoly on attention creativity is emerging as the ultimate skill for communications professionals on both sides of the fence.
If you want to be seriously competitive in media, marketing or PR your team needs both a creative and analytical mindset.
Businesses which embrace becoming a media company successfully are going to find themselves with a lot of action at the top of the funnel. Organically some users will trickle down and take a desired action. But your end objective isn’t just visitors to content (unless you’re ad supported). Your content itself will open visitors up to ideas, but at the end of the day you want them to take an action, right?
I’m not saying push blatant marketing messages out to your whole community, as this can potentially hurt top of the funnel results which are resulting in organic outcomes. What you should do is – through segmentation, calls to action and other tactics – siphon visitors away from your socially-oriented channel into more commercial-oriented channels with higher sales conversion rates. If done correctly, you will have built permission with this audience by now, so they will be far more receptive to purchase-oriented messages. If they’re not interested, they can always opt out and because you’ve segmented messages they’ll still be subscribed to your value-oriented content. And in that case, you’re still nurturing them with content until they are ready to buy.
As a note, this is just one one potential direction you could take after you have acquired an audience. Once your company has an audience, you will be in a far different, stronger position than companies who do not have one. You can test messaging, have leverage to interview well-known people in their industry, (who will then point their networks at you) host events and conferences, attract influencers to endorse your brand, etc. The point is once you have a thriving community, it’s a whole lot easier to figure out how to direct them than being in a position that you always have to rely on others for attention.
The PR industry as a whole has a long way to go (especially when we see examples like these). But transforming your brand and/or clients into media companies allows PR to become something far more strategic and valuable in the long-term.
While Valeria is right that PR is frequently misunderstood and misapplied, it doesn’t have to be for you. At this point it makes sense for savvy PR professionals and agencies to be the ones to take the lead developing media strategies that embrace owned, placed and paid effectively.