To Boost PR Results, Look to Paid Channels

Guest post via digital marketing consultant/PR Newswire veteran Sara Skerik

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This is a guest post by Sara Skerik, a digital and content marketing consultant and veteran of the PR Newswire organization. Follow her on Twitter.

For the PR industry as a whole, there are more channels and tools today with which to reach consumers and other audiences, and the lines between paid and earned are blurring. Understanding and deftly managing the use of new paid channels can deliver important visibility opportunities for PR pros today.

“Media are evolving as they’re scrambling to make up for lost revenues.  The model has shifted,” says Amanda Foley, co-owner and co-founder of Duo PR in Seattle (follow them on Twitter), noting that many morning television shows are now pay-to-play.  “PR needs to understand this new media landscape.”

While paying for placement used to be reserved for bylined articles and columns, that’s not the case today.  In addition to sponsored content and native placement, many broadcast and digital outlets also offer paid placement opportunities on web sites and even within regular programming.

“Outlets are fighting harder to get consumers to pay attention,” commented Rebecca Mosely, Foley’s partner at Duo PR (Twitter account here), explaining the tension between media economics and how crucial it is for media outlets and blogs to maintain audience loyalty while still turning a profit.  “Bloggers are looking for ways to generate income from their blogs and advertorials are spilling over into online editorials.”

Public relations pros have recognized the game is changing, and paid media is no longer the exclusive domain of marketing and advertising agencies.

“I expected much more skepticism from seasoned PR pros over the concept of commissioning stories in news outlets,” commented Dave Armon (Twitter account here), CEO of Brand.com, a content marketing company that enables brands to publish reporter-written articles directly onto leading news sites. [Ed. note: check out takeaways from Brand.com’s recent webinar on pitching via social media including yours truly.]

Part of the reason for this acceptance, according to Armon, is the simple fact that paid options offer public relations pros significant control over campaigns that simply wasn’t possible previously.

“You control the quality of the content, and the timing,” said Armon. “You can time the placement perfectly to support other initiatives.”

Paid isn’t advertising

“Why shouldn’t some of these paid placements fall under the PR umbrella?” Foley continued. “Blogger campaigns aren’t banner ads.  Advertising doesn’t create a two-way dialog.  The channels we’re pursuing do.  To succeed, you have to be authentic in your approach, collaborating with the blogger result in something that will be authentic for their audience.”

Messages that are developed in concert with the media partner are likely to ring true with audiences, as well.

“What we’ve found is that proper labeling is paramount,” noted Armon.  “Research shows that consumers don’t care if content is sponsored as long as it’s relevant, so we advocate very clear disclosure.”

Anthony Hardman (Twitter account here), a senior consultant for PR 20/20 in Cleveland, advises communicators to embrace paid, earned and owned channels, using them strategically to maximize brand visibility.

“Using media convergence to extend message reach is crucial, and to do that, communicators need to incorporate paid, earned and owned channels into their planning,” he noted.  “Use all three spokes to control the message hub. That’s how you get the conversions.”

Don’t forget to build a call to action for the core audience into the messaging.  Myriad stakeholders, including customers, prospects, employees and investors, routinely browse and share PR content online.  Providing a path for interested individuals to find more information and pursue the interest the message ignited simply makes good sense, and the results are measurable.

“If you’re representing a B2B brand, you need to use digital media convergence to drive traffic to landing pages around campaigns, and at the very least get a ‘micro-conversion’ such as a click-through, download or registration,” Hardman suggested.  “B2C communicators should be thinking about driving smart referrals. Posting a photo to Pinterest without a link to your e-commerce site won’t be effective.

Testing paid channels for PR

Experimenting with paid media can start as simply as issuing a press release over a wire service instead of sending emails, or promoting posts on social channels.   The key, according to Hardman, is having measurement in place when you take that first step.  Prior to testing paid channels, it’s important to establish baseline metrics against which you’ll gauge results.   Traffic to the specific web pages you’ll be promoting, as well as the referring sources of that traffic, are good places to start.  Then, commence the paid test, and evaluate the outcomes against your baselines.

“You’ll see the results, and you can see the needle moving,” said Hardman, who is focused on connecting PR to sales and uses press releases as a lead generation tool. “Using the company’s marketing automation suite or Google Analytics, you can also track that referral traffic and monitor visitor behavior.  Did they request more information, or make a purchase?  That’s the sort of information execs want to see.”

Author Sarah Skerik is a content marketing, PR & social media strategist, specializing in integrated digital marketing, next-gen public relations and upper funnel optimization. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik or connect with her on LinkedIn.