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PR professionals seem to embrace an air of superiority when it comes to the owned/earned/paid debate.
PRs have traditionally crafted stories that win or lose by their storytelling craft. If the story isn't powerful enough then the journalist will slam the phone down in a rage and never speak to you again.
Whereas on the paid side of the fence, the feeling is that content with a big media budget behind it can reach (or be pushed in front of) a wider audience, whether or not it is any good. And that that's just wrong.
Truths and flaws abound on both sides of this summary.
Why bother paying?
Then there's the more recent argument that, in a digitally connected world, there is no need for paid media. If you build something awesome, then they will come.
Again, it's an incomplete and shortsighted conclusion.
Great paid media campaigns can get earned results and earned campaigns can be boosted significantly by paid investment and integration.
Digital changes the game and makes integration even more relevant, driven by the business models of the leading online platforms and networks.
In many cases, it's practitioners in the earned/owned sphere that need to adapt otherwise they'll very quickly miss out.
The irony is that earned media experts have a clear advantage. They know how to construct a story that will resonate with an audience.
But, by ignoring the paid amplification opportunity, the results are never going to be as successful.
Take Facebook's Sponsored Stories. It's the success of the earned campaign that is then boosted by paid amplification. Both earned and paid working together in an integrated way.
The fact that many of the most lauded social media campaigns of recent years have been turbo-charged by paid media is something that many seem to see as a 'dirty little secret' and especially those that come from the earned side of the fence.
We're not used to asking our bosses or clients for media budgets and so it feels wrong or in some way 'cheating'.
Paid media FTW
The changing nature of paid media, especially through social channels, is making the argument for linking earned and paid more and more relevant. Advanced targeting, analysis and attribution.
This requires a different mindset. An agile approach, where earned media success is analysed and monitored in real-time so that paid media amplification strategies can be deployed.
But the benefits are clear:
- Increased reach.
- Improved targeting, ensuring you reach the right people.
- Analysis and data feedback to inform real-time or future campaigns.
The two practices can learn from each other.
What do your paid campaigns tell you about your target audience? Where they are?
What does your earned media approach tell you about content and topics that resonate?
A balancing act
There is always a danger that we will go too far the other way. Paid media is not an excuse for us to lose the rigors of achieving content and storytelling excellence.
More often than not in my experience, paid media is managed poorly and is seen as a lazy way to get results (which comes back to the original point).
If the success of social activity relies on two key areas - great storytelling (by creating great, compelling content) and the distribution of these stories (via earned and paid strategies) - then an integrated approach is vital.
And this is all just a long way of saying that thinking in terms of these silos of paid, earned and owned just doesn't work anymore.
Great content deserves great (targeted) reach. Now that it's possible, can you afford to miss out?