PR Wins the Digital Content Game but Struggles with Trust, Disclosure Issues

Q&A with Doug Simon, president/CEO of D S Simon.

It’s a basic fact that “digital content” is the future. Not only are media organizations in a race to produce in-house content, they’re also using more and more work created by third parties.

You know what that means: sponsored video/multimedia materials pitched to media outlets by their PR contacts.

This is generally a very good thing, but a survey conducted by New York-based “digital video communications” firm D S Simon includes some surprising details. (This is where we tell you to click here to download the full report.)

A majority of respondents in every form of media say they will use more outside videos next year:

  • 40 percent of bloggers
  • 54 percent of web producers
  • 57 percent of magazine editors
  • …and a whopping 78 percent of radio producers(!)

But–and this is a pretty big but–some serious trust issues persist regarding digital content and the way it’s pitched.

Here’s an eye-opening chart:


How do these media contacts feel that they are being “misled?” We talked to President/CEO Doug Simon to learn more.

What’s your key takeaway from the survey?

There are huge opportunities for communications professionals to earn media with good content, but many communicators are either afraid or not even trying to create quality material. Our core is video, but this applies across all types of content.

A significant amount [76 percent] of digital media outlets use third party video. It needs to be a core part of your comms plan because it forces clients/organizations to speak in an authentic voice.

Even radio stations are using third party videos on their websites!

What surprised you about these digital trends?

We found that 84 percent of journos use social sites to find leads on the brands they cover.

Digital journalists are looking to companies’ social channels for content to create story ideas, so you don’t want to infuse those channels with marketing fluff; it needs to provide news value.

From a brand perspective, I can’t think of any company or major nonprofit that isn’t incorporating video–be it broadcast, YouTube, etc. into their comms plan. You’ve got to be a part of it. Even Super Bowl ad campaigns are now all about the “pre-game show.”

doug simonWhat about the trust/transparency findings? How do these media professionals feel that they’re being misled?

The key thing is that you have to go above and beyond to gain a journalist’s trust.

I would say there’s a percentage of comms pros who put content out there without disclosing that it’s sponsored or funded by the brand–and ours might be the first data set showing that this is a bad thing.

The FTC’s 2009 spokesperson guidelines say that if you’ve received anything of value from a brand (even transportation to the studio), then on-air disclosure of the relationship is required.

The grey area comes when the relationship is not obvious to viewers. If you don’t want to admit that you’re working with a brand, then you probably shouldn’t have taken the job.

What does PR need to do to address this?

PR has a PR challenge: every industry includes some bad apples, and it’s very difficult to deal with that because [they may have a] disproportionate influence.

This could also be an educational effort for clients and the blogger community. They need to make sure the bloggers are living up to their responsibilities when they’re being paid; bad practices reflect badly on the industry but–more importantly–they reflect badly on the client.

What will change this? When brands say to agencies, “You’re putting us at risk if you’re not doing this the right way.” If an agency were to say “please put #ad on your post” and the blogger/influencer doesn’t, it’s a defense tool for the brand. You can even structure contracts to withhold payment if your partners don’t do that.

And why not?

Including such information in the initial pitch is a best practice. Another best practice for distributing videos in the digital space is including a small graphic in the video itself that reads “video provided by…” and again, why not?

You should be proud of your offering. It’s not legally required, but I think it’s a best practice.

What do we think?