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How to use paid media in support of earned media campaigns

“Paid, until recently a four-letter word in public relations, is bringing an advantage never experienced before; control”, says Christi Burnum, who leads the paid media team at PR firm Ketchum. Burnum adds that for the first time, public relations is not solely at the mercy of journalists and publishers, or limited by organic reach alone: “Paid media leverages digital’s full capabilities of audience targeting, timing, reliable reach and measurement.”

More good news for PR, is that PROs possess the perfect skills to create content that resonates. As Burnum says: “Paid media in support of public relations is very different from advertising paid media, and requires a unique perspective. Positioning brands as thought leaders and the thoughtful selection of publisher partners for earned amplification is a skillset the PR professional will have in spades.”

Consumers are less likely to want to read or watch branded content, so if you want to grab their attention, make sure you don’t waste your money by creating something that they ignore, or even worse, get irritated by. Burnum quotes sobering statistics: “The average person spends around 10 hours consuming media each day, and in that time is exposed to 5,000+ marketing messages, according to eMarketer and Media Dynamics. We register awareness for about one quarter of those messages and, fewer still, approximately 3% make any sort of actual impression. The online space is overcrowded with content, and consumers are firmly in control of what they engage with, when and where.”

Whether or not you are creating online content or an advertorial for a publication, rule number one, as always, is to put your audience first. Tom Rouse, senior creative at PR agency Hotwire, says: “An advertorial isn’t an excuse to just talk about yourself. Like any good piece of marketing, your first focus should be on telling your audience something they want to know. If you start your piece by talking about how great your brand is, you’re going to alienate your audience and waste money.”

Rouse suggests finding a theme that’s linked to your brand and then getting the audience excited about that theme: “Sky’s sponsored promotions in Shortlist are a perfect example of how to approach this. Two writers share their love for TV shows around a specific theme and urge the audience to try out the shows they champion. Sky’s brand positioning is that of an enabler – your Sky subscription is what enables you to catch up on these historic shows.”

Once you’ve provided your audience with something useful and interesting, you can then look to bring your brand into the story. However, Rouse cautions: “This should always be a secondary consideration and even here, the focus should be on a case study or the aspect of your brand or product which is most relevant to your customers.”

Top tips for engaging audiences

From Magda Wynne, paid media manager at PR firm Weber Shandwick:

Offer consumers value. Whilst brands typically launch media campaigns to increase their reach, engagement and sales, consumers open media sites to be entertained and to feel inspired. It is only when these goals are connected that we see promoted campaigns really succeed. The challenge is not only to produce content that gets seen – this is something the media budget guarantees anyway – but create content that matters to the audience enough for it to engage.

Innovate purposefully. Digital media keeps innovating. This is great news for marketers who not only have an increasing choice of media products and tactics, but can also be the first to test products in beta. Auditing the shiny, new products in line with brand goals can keep us focused on delivering overall great results. On the other hand, we should always challenge what has worked in the past – one AB test at a time!

Use data insight. Digital media campaigns come with a vast amount of data. When social networks introduced auto-play videos last Summer, we realised that the content had to grab users’ attention in the first three seconds (and without sound!) to get people to want to watch more. Also, since last year, social content is much more likely to be consumed as mobile content – something to be aware of.

From Katie Cairns, senior digital marketing manager at PR agency LEWIS:

Consider the platform. What platform(s) are you going to be using? Too often we see one kind of content being used across a number of different platforms, without any real consideration to the capabilities of that particular channel and the audience that choose to exist there. To make your content stand out and appeal to users; you need to tailor it. When crafting content, think about the ways in which you can use it for each channel; a report can be turned into an infographic, a blog post, short-form video (Vine, Instagram), a listicle, gif, etc.

Use the right image. It’s undoubtable that visual assets help to drive much higher engagement rates. We never run a paid campaign without accompanying imagery. Instead of using the usual stock selection, social cards can be created and designed to the right dimensions to help visualise your comms and drive stand-out.

Copy matters. Crafting clever copy is a way to make sure that your paid promotions get noticed amongst the usual sales messaging and generic calls to action. We ran a guerrilla-style campaign around the launch of an innovative new phone handset. Vague, yet snappy and intriguing messaging drove huge engagement rates and buzz around the brand; whilst making the budget go much further than expected.

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