Communications has always been about change. At Emerson, where I went to college, the motto is “Expression Necessary to Evolution.” You could just as accurately say that evolution is necessary to expression – at least if you want what you are expressing to actually reach and matter to people.
With this in mind, InkHouse is exploring a new approach and way of thinking that moves the practice of PR forward. It’s based on recognizing and reinforcing the relationship between paid, owned and earned media. The bottom line is that that story is the story and it can be expressed in many ways. Why lock a story - or story elements - into artificially constrained content types or channels? It’s time to think more creatively and that is what we are doing at InkHouse.
We’re taking this new direction because the ways audiences access and consume content has changed and is continuing to evolve. We need to recognize and work within a new reality:
- Publishers - and audiences - are mobile: 39 of the top 50 digital news sites receive more traffic from mobile than desktop.
- Audiences read content in their “stream”: via app notifications, social media, email and digital newsletters.
- There are more outlets for sponsored content: In 2015 roughly $10.7 billion was spent on native ads, up from $7.9 billion in 2014. This number will rise.
The bottom line is that while earned media will always matter, there’s a lot of noise, and now we have new tools and approaches to connect stories with even more specific audiences.
I started my PR career in the pre-digital days. While much about this profession has changed since then, the underlying theory has stayed the same: know your audience and understand what you want that audience to do. Letters and faxes gave way to email and social engagement with the media. Formal press tours are a rarity now. News cycles and product cycles have accelerated to the point that both have become constant blurs.
In our content-fluid world, earned media alone isn’t enough. Even owned media channels -- your website, blog and Twitter feed -- stop short of the true potential for disseminating a story.
Unfortunately, chief marketing officers and VPs of marketing think about their teams and agencies by discrete disciplines: PR, marcom and advertising. That made good sense when PR was responsible for earned media channels and advertising was responsible for paid media channels and marcom was responsible for owned media channels. This approach also made sense when audiences were conscious of the differences between media channels and accepted that different messages might filter through them in different ways. The fact is that people are inundated with so much media, with so many messages, with so much information that it all begins to blend.
We know we heard something somewhere, but what was it again? Where did it come from? How does it fit with all of the other things we’ve heard? To market in neat little boxes in an environment like this has stopped making sense. So what happens next and how do we get our heads and arms around it all – and, more importantly, how do we help our clients succeed?
These are exactly the questions and issues that are driving this evolution.
Marketers recognize that every channel – whether paid, owned or earned – is a valid one for telling stories. People get this, sure; but what they don’t get is that these channels (and the stories told through them) need to be brought together into something more thoughtful and coherent. A great story is a great story and if you are lucky enough to have one (and who isn’t?) you need to be thinking about it beyond the bounds of whatever box it was build for.
This approach needs to be fueled – as does all marketing – by rich data and good insights. You need to know where an audience is spending their time, what kinds of messages they’re being exposed to, how effectively a client (and its competitors) are reaching people, what content assets are available, what media channels can be used and at what cost.
Paid media has been a major part of the traditional PR mix in the past. Now, all of these things - paid, earned and owned - need to be a part of the communications mix. Every channel and piece of content needs to support – and be supported by – every other channel and piece of content. A virtuous cycle needs to be spun up to help deliver meaningful messages for our clients, especially for the most important stories they have to tell.