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PR Strategy: Paid Media Tactics for Earning Media

paid media for earned media


by Frank Strong

Advertising offers great message control but questionable credibility.  PR offers credibility though third party validation, but there are no message guarantees.  As an industry we love to look at these separately to compare and contrast, but a better value is looking at how they can work together.

Paid media can earn media.  It’s a point that’s stuck with me ever since a professor placed a controversial ad on overlay for an overhead projector long ago.

Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler magazine, uses this approach often.  My earliest recollection was during the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal where he placed an ad looking for dirt on any Republican.

Flynt is, perhaps, an odd place to find a PR lesson, but I try to keep an eye out for marketing or PR in everything. His scheme got a lot of coverage and he’s since repeated this tactic time and again.

30-second chunks are often interesting and meaningful, so the ads are worth unpacking

Content Worth Unpacking

This tactic is widely adopted in politics because there’s a story in it.  As The American Prospect wrote in How “Paid Media” Becomes “Earned Media” — “I also write plenty about the advertising candidates use, which gives them at least a bit of extra earned media, because I think their efforts to persuade voters in 30-second chunks are often interesting and meaningful, so the ads are worth unpacking.”

Certainly it’s understandable that a company might balk at spending $40,000 for a full page print ad, but the social web offers a new twist on an old idea.  Web ads, especially pay-per-click, have altered advertising in five major ways:

  1. It’s cheap.
  2. It’s precise, especially in terms of relevancy.
  3. It’s easily integrated with other marketing efforts.
  4. It’s adaptable; you can change it on the fly.
  5. It’s measurable.

This means any organization, including a business, can offer meaningful advertising worth unpacking.


paid media, earned media


Targeting Reporters with Paid Search Ads

Marketing firm AimClear has been an early proponent of this approach.  In a post titled, Media Relation in the Social AgeLindsay Schleisman wrote, “Ads on social networks, particularly LinkedIn, are a great way to seed stories with journalists.”

It’s a great tactic and I’ve copied AimClear’s approach with success in the past for about $100.  When publishing survey results on SMBs and social media, I turned to LinkedIn for an extra push.   It’s very simple to do and LinkedIn provides a way to precisely target ads by title and topic.  Facebook offers similar capabilities, and it’s going to be interesting to see what the Graph Search might bring about for PR.

Google of course modernized paid search ads, and with it’s new push for Authorship verification, Google+ also holds a lot of promise.  I haven’t yet explored Reddit or StumbleUpon but they do look like good alternatives with which to experiment.


Promote a Story Not a Product

There’s an old adage in PR circles that for best results, pitch a story not the product.  The same is true in terms of paid advertising for earned media purposes — it’s got to have a useful and relevant angle.

Solid research, like the content I promoted on LinkedIn, has a stable shelf-life and statistics are inherently useful for reporting.  Amid cluttered email inboxes and phone calls that go straight to voicemail, paid ads on social networks are a passive, but effective, way of breaking through the noise.  Surely some reporters will find this creepy, but if you focus on promoting something that helps a reporter, many will be receptive.

“69% of respondents said that family and friends help them choose what to buy, up 13% from 61% last year.”




Social Validation and Earning User Generated Content

Every day on Facebook I see ads promoting marketing software — there are dozens of different vendors but generally only two approaches to these ads.  Some of these pitch sales demos while others pitch content.   HubSpot, which has made its name for it’s habit of content marketing, pitches content.

Over time, because I know these ads link to content, I’m more inclined to click and see what the company is doing or saying.  I’ve learned a thing or two by perusing their content — like this post on infographics — and it winds up with a mention on a minor league marketing blog like this one.

And that makes two points.

  • Gaining traction in the minor league. When enough minor league players are vocal about a product or idea, the idea bubbles up until it crosses a threshold where a major league player takes notice.  It’s a form of social validation and crowdsourced PR.
  • The most trusted name in news.   Friends and family are the most trusted source of information for buying decisions.   According to Marketing Charts, “69% of respondents said that family and friends help them choose what to buy, up 13% from 61% last year.”

For example, I’m very interested in how Jayme Soulati’s implementation of HubSpot’s software plays out.  The company is on my radar from it’s content marketing, but the social validation by a user carries a lot of credibility.

User-generated content, especially from a respected industry professional like Jayme, can cover in far greater detail how well a product works.  While that post in TechCrunch might build awareness through it’s wide audience, Jayme’s experience is more likely to tip the scale of a sale.  That’s a good reason for vendors to try to earn her interest in their content.

* * *

Paid media is not the bally-wick of the traditional PR pro, but some of the most venerable names in the industry are endorsing paid media the concept.  I do as well, insofar as the focus is on earning media.   Advertising should not work in isolation, and neither should PR.  The two working together can make a far greater impact.

What clever ideas have you discovered for using paid media to earn media?

Disclosure:  I have no relationship with the products mentioned in this post.

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Good article Frank. As media shrinks, getting wins with traditional PR is getting harder, so we have to get more creative and be open-minded about new ways of working. 

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR

Can I just say? Your reporting is bar none top dog. I love your investment in research and data for your posts and how you present and reason so many issues wrapped up in this single column. AND, what better way to seek employment than by putting that at bottom of a very impressive blog post? I wish I knew peeps in that region; always one full of opportunity, yet, my contacts there are nil....what are you seeking BTW? I know I can help.


Onward...Hubspot. And, we little ones toil long and hard prior to making such a leap of faith in an unknown that lures us in with content. When I saw my file they kept on all my clicks into their sources, it was pretty astonishing that that type of data could be available on a lead.


And, so, I am going to reserve judgment because it is too soon although the launch has had me in tears with an outlay of extra IT support to fix an issue that is yet unresolved. And, as you indicated we littles will have major influence on others within our network.


As @joshuawilner suggested, I can write a series on this integration and learning; perhaps I'll do that on occasion to help others toiling with whether to engage. On a final note, I suggested in my post yesterday, that I know my habits -- keen starter. My goal is to finish for 12 months with these guys...lofty and attainable with the $$ investment. (I'm muttering under my breath...please, please do it!)


Feel free to check in with me any time, if you're interested. I'm interested more in what you wrote above -- the further blurring of the lines for PR and media relations -- WOW. That is huge, Frank.