Earned media is not transactional so don’t manage it that way.
Earned media, otherwise known as publicity (or its inside baseball description as media placement), is often over estimated in its contribution to what is otherwise a content marketing driven world. Often misunderstood given publicity’s quirky, and at times, erratic media channel behavior – it is routinely under-leveraged due to misguided practices.
If ever there was a communication platform in brand-land where hit or miss rapidly divides the win from the loser – this is it. Editorial media attention is desirable because of its inherent credibility blanket and intrusiveness (you have the attention of your audience). And yet, is also never far away from the flip side of its personality due to lack of controlled message, absence of any real frequency and “now we have it, now we don’t” track record.
Much of the inherent performance risk in this equation can be driven out, but it requires solid devotion to a set of principles that sit at the front door of non-paid media outcomes.
To set the record straight – editorial media does not exist as a marketing message distribution vessel. The decision makers and gatekeepers who govern what gets reported look first at what’s really deserving of analysis and report to their audience; presumably it’s stories that are helpful, useful, informative, valuable and credible.
Standard exception to this rule is celebrity gossip and anything anywhere that hits the salacious button square on the head.
Shameless self-promotion need not apply. Yet apply it does, early and often. The result is inherent, systemic suspicion of material coming from companies because so much of it is ham-handedly created to sell something rather than credibly inform.
After many years of participating in this marcomm arena and experiencing the good, the bad and downright ugly, we can distill quite clearly what separates best practices from everything else. Here’s the rogues gallery…
Unless you’re Apple with a new iPhone to unveil, the rest of the world needs to be more strategic about how products and services enter a story concept – when, why and how. If it isn’t groundbreaking don’t lead with your product-centric chin.
Those who are truly expert in this field, who understand how media organizations operate, how they make decisions, what flies or dies, should be allowed to ply their craft without manipulation – the arm-twisting kind – aimed at pushing the messaging envelope down the wrong pipe of self-reverential sales pitch.
Editorial sensibility springs from the brains of those sensitive to how journalists think and work. Does the story pass the ‘so what and who cares’ test? What is the over-arching trend, issue, behavior, or concern that is creating interest in this subject for the intended audience?
Story relevance is paramount in the editorial world – so what do reporters and producers do? They conduct due diligence – on stories ideas that reflect popular culture, and solve problems that matter to their audience. And on…
- News events that unfold because they are clearly newsworthy (e.g., elections, natural disasters).
- Industry conditions and developments impacting people and investors.
- Research that forecasts shifts or changes in behavior and preference – often confirming or countering perceived trends.
- Lifestyle concerns like ‘managing financial security amidst uncertainty’ or the massive move to preference for real, fresh, simple, responsibly-made foods.
- Parenting. Health. Travel experiences. New technologies. Public policy. Events. Sports.
The list is quite long.
However, where a product or service fits in the continuum of trends, issues, wants, needs, concerns and events is key to story creation. How this is done in the voice of the editorial media is mission critical. The language of reporting, the arc of story telling is unique and different than overt selling, presenting or the traditional lexicon of marcomm.
- Construction of headlines: Does your company or brand’s story truly deserve to occupy that key space?
- Strong intro: Start (always) with the legitimate news at hand.
- Expert validation: Deployment of outside third-party quote-able sources and use of corroborating facts,
- The simple truth/transparency: The absence of blatant hyperbolic assertions of highest quality or super-duper benefit.
Writing in the syntax of reportorial language is important. Simply said: treating the story the same way a reporter would handle it.
The respect quotient.
Earning the respect of editorial decision makers isn’t easy. Knowing what the rules are and how this is done (their agenda is different than yours) goes a long way towards becoming a reliable and respected source for strong, well-researched and appropriate story material.
For experts toiling in these fields, it’s vital to your reputation not to deviate from said rules and abuse what you know about how the delicate relationship between source and reporter is managed.
The role of trade coverage.
Yes, a major story in the Wall Street Journal is a worthy goal (assuming the story has this potential). Getting there is a strategic path that often begins in trade or even regional media. Efforts to build a body of work in these channels helps verify the importance of the topic, influences how the story is told, and helps guide the point-of-view reporters further up the media food chain will acquire.
Breaking a story.
Where and with whom can matter. Launching a story about a development in the cheese industry in Milwaukee’s daily newspaper makes sense because the cheese industry is huge in Wisconsin. A story with public policy overtones in Washington D.C. for the same reason. Location aside, offering reporters an exclusive on an important announcement can be helpful to gaining traction.
It’s a journey.
Working with reporters and producers is a process of value creation. Your efforts to develop credible, respected, outside third-party sources that can speak to the subject, is massively important to shaping the story outcomes. Your ability to supply materials, graphics, photos and interviews is key. Openness, helpfulness and transparency in these conversations are vital. And when needed, deep background conversations ahead of formal (quotable) interviews can help shape the direction a story takes.
Earned media is not transactional – treating it like a content distribution platform inevitably leads to ruin. People who know the editorial rules and how to navigate this territory are unicorns. If you find them, hold onto them, listen to them, respect them and let them guide. It will make the difference between process (which is NOT an outcome) and a real, true, read-it-in-the-headlines outcome.
Yes, we could write a book about this.
Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent Healthy Living. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies. Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.