In the old days, public relations (PR) was much simpler. PR was essentially a means to convince third parties – usually journalists – to report favourably about an organisation. The language was formal and business-like, and the tools used were press releases, story pitches, press conferences and other devices that fostered strong and trusting relationships with target journalists and their editors.
Why? Because journalists have no affiliation with the organisation they are reporting on. Journalists are considered as objective and indifferent – they’re not here to sing your praises, they’re here to keep the public informed of the facts, in an unbiased way. A positive piece from a journalist about your organisation is ‘third-party endorsement’ – the pinnacle achievement of your brand positioning strategy.
When the bomb dropped
Then the digital era began, and the internet exploded like an atomic blast above what we used to know as media. It was blown to smithereens. From the smoke and ashes emerged an entirely new landscape of struggling survivors and new media models thriving in the fractured aftermath. The channels available for organisations to influence their publics multiplied enormously. And, for the first time ever, those publics that are so important to corporate success could radiate potent influence. Not just back at the organisation, but through blogs and social media, to the world.
Managing corporate reputations in an era of globally accessible proliferated media has become vastly more complex. Pervasive PR emerged as public relations people stepped up with strategies to help organisations manage their brands across this growing slew of new media – managing each in different ways.
Modern media can be broken into three groups; Paid Media, Owned Media and Earned Media. PR has pervaded them all.
PR in Paid Media
Paid media is quite simply media you pay for – primarily advertising. The boon of any advertising campaign is control. You control the content, the style, the placement, the frequency and the potential audience.
Other than huge costs, the big problem with paid media is credibility. Blowing your own trumpet in the way advertising requires lacks credibility as everyone knows careful thought and planning went into creating the advert, to ensure every word and image is perfectly ‘on-brand’ and the message was in no way subjected to independent scrutiny.
Advertising is traditionally cheese to PR’s chalk, but public relations has pervaded this category, steering corporate advertising messages to communicate the way organisations approach topical issues with benevolence, such as being socially responsible and environmentally-friendly.
PR in Owned Media
Owned media refers to the communications channels an organisation owns and operates itself, so we’re talking websites, blogs, social media pages etc. In some ways, owned media could be grouped as a sub-division of paid media, and it is similar – you have control of the content, it can lack credibility because the audience knows you publish it yourself and there are costs.
However, the costs are substantially lower, you can overcome the lack of credibility by building trust within your communities and you have much, much more control over the content and the frequency by which you publish it.
Building trusting communities is the goal of owned media and this is where public relations comes in – carefully conceptualised and skilfully written content is the key. In his book, “The New Rules of Marketing and PR” David Meerman Scott argues that organisations should start viewing whatever it is they exist to do – sell socks, build cars, host events – as a secondary purpose to their primary purpose as a publishers/broadcaster; essentially he says ‘We’re all publishers now,’ and in the world of social media, there really is more than a modicum of truth in this statement. When it comes to owned media, PR strategists, creatives and writers are there to help you perform your role as a publisher effectively.
The point at which owned media becomes incredibly effective is when you get to the stage where your organisation’s content or posts are inspiring others to mention, share, repost or engage with them, simply because they believe in what you’re doing and want to support it. This is where owned media crosses over with earned media, and it’s a powerful combination.
PR in Earned Media
In the race for third party endorsement, earned media has taken the baton from traditional public relations and kept on running. Whereas paid media exchanges payment for exposure in selected media, with earned media the exposure – often in the same media titles – is “earned,” by being interesting, innovative, relevant, new, etc. This can be summed up as ‘newsworthy’. Because it is third-party endorsement, earned media is the most credible form of public relations. It takes us back to our opening paragraph’s definition of public relations – persuading reporters to report positively about your organisation.
However, with earned media, PRs are no longer just dealing with reporters working for established news outlets. The fraternity of third-party endorsers is much bigger now. Along with reporters, modern PRs are courting favour from the likes of independent bloggers, YouTubers and social media influencers, many of whom have huge followings and powers of persuasion the established media could only wish for. Earned media can be direct to customer too; organisations can earn valuable social media interaction in the form of likes, shares, retweets and reviews directly from their customers.
Earned media is not an easy or simple route to engaging communities, it takes hard work and well-developed skills, that’s why it’s called ‘earned’, but with the right strategy, earned media publicity is achievable and it’s vastly more convincing and, therefore, more valuable, than publicity gained through paid or owned media.
Pervasive PR ensures your paid media meets philanthropic expectations, it helps your owned media tell stories through highly-tailored content and Pervasive PR is the goose that’s laying earned media’s golden eggs.