“Paid media is crucial but yet to find its true place”

Industry leaders from the PR industry gathered recently to discuss the growing use of paid media and its value within the PR industry. Hosted by content-marketing platform Outbrain, the session explored whether the sector is underestimating the power of paid media in the modern media landscape. The general consensus of the panel was that while paid media has a crucial role to play in modern PR strategies, the debate is still open to where ownership lies.

Who owns paid media?

The panel was undecided and struggled to agree on who owns paid media. Even if brands do see the value of paid media, the panel commented that CMOs often prefer to delegate paid, creative, social, and PR to separate agencies. As Jan Jenson, CMO at Trust Pilot explained: “It’s the argument between convenience (of having it all in one place) vs agility and bandwidth.”

This debate over responsibility reflects how paid media is yet to find its true place. It’s clear that there has been a significant shift in how the PR industry is choosing to amplify coverage to ensure that the right people see it – but the industry is still underestimating the potential for paid – ultimately, it seems due to lack of ownership and responsibility.

Does paid de-value earned?

Gareth Davies at Waggner Edstrom proposed, “invest in production, invest in distribution.” The panel agreed that PRs need to become more flexible with their budgets to allow room for paid media alongside scoring traditional, earned media. “We offer paid media within our initial pitches for new PR campaigns, it’s simply part of the delivery and integral to the process” said Gareth.

An understanding of how to collaborate paid and earned media is essential to any PR agency. Clearly there is a balance to be struck, as there have been recent concerns that paid devalues the role of media relationships in PR. However, the consensus of the roundtable was that this is definitely not the case, as earned coverage still remains influential.

Does paid = better measurement?

“We are artists rather than scientists” expressed Weber Shandwick’s Head of Digital, Danny Watmough. This reflects the panel’s view that the PR industry is not known for handling data and measuring metrics. The PR industry has been slow to show improvement in how it calculates and measures successes and failures.

Integrating paid media alongside traditional earned guarantees specific, set results which can be analysed and calculated to produce clear measurement of media campaigns. Paid media it seems can assist industry professionals in becoming better at collecting and interpreting data.

How has paid media impacted traditional PR agencies?

The emerging rise of digital teams within PR agencies who are creating their own content in-house for clients is a new trend, according to the panel.  As Helen Trevorrow, MD of Greenrow PR, stated: “A 360 view is needed for a successful media campaign. It’s a case of adjusting mind sets to share creative elements and talent from all areas – repurposing content and relinquishing the protective nature we have over content when the results of a combined media campaign is in question.”

What does paid mean for the future of PR?

Perhaps the industry landscape will shift further and further towards the all-in-one agency, which offers creative, digital, paid and PR. Either small agencies will adapt and grow, or be swallowed by their competitors simply growing faster than them. Either way, paid media is shaking up the PR world, for the better, meaning more effective campaigns and ultimately results. The benefits are clear, it’s just the specifics of how that we need to answer now.

Joshua Speers, Representing Outbrain

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