I have been one of the hard-liners opposing any blurring of the lines between advertising and PR. I am now prepared to change my position. I still believe that we have a primary task of proposing stories to journalists and bloggers. But there is a vital emerging business to be done in content creation for brands.
In the past six months, the previously sharp distinction between paid and earned media has become blurred. Sponsored content, native advertising and long-term aggregation deals are all being discussed. The reality is that media companies need new revenue streams to compensate for the collapse of premium CPM advertising rates, from $8 to under $3.
The problem for PR firms is that these deals are primarily being done by media buying firms directly with the client. The person within the client organization running these initiatives tends to be the CMO, not the chief communications officer. The result is that the work stream tends to be derivative of advertising in its classic form, not in its potential new iteration. For example, before the opening bell for the markets, Business Insider does a list of ten things to know for the trading day, with the eleventh being a sponsored note from a financial company. This is not much different than the Old Spice Play of the Day on ESPN. Or a media company negotiates a long-term sponsorship for a section of its website; this sounds like a stadium naming opportunity to me.
Those of us in PR have to change the game. Let’s recognize that the digital platform for mainstream and hybrid media is an unmatched opportunity to offer hundreds of visual images, a different mentality about contributing comments, a high propensity to share quality material and a short-form mode for absorption of information. Why not take on the chance to make content the basis of advertising? Ads are inherently more effective when you have something to say. And we are better than any other marketing services sector at knowing what is newsworthy at any moment in time.
We are already putting this thinking into action. We helped establish a partnership between Samsung and the Associated Press that was announced today. The AP will grant Samsung two tweeting slots a day on the AP’s own Twitter account for the five days of the Consumer Electronics Show. This is the first time AP has sold space on its feed; the tweets will be labeled SPONSORED and will not be done by AP staff.
— The Associated Press (@AP) January 7, 2013
We have also spoken with The Economist and Business Insider about various forms of sponsored content. The range of options include syndication of material produced by media companies on company websites, platforms for a brand to write its own content (Brand Blog on Business Insider) or short-form video with heavy use of graphics.
We have an important re-framing of our business to be accomplished in the next five years. We have to stay true to our core positioning, that we are about persuasion and not shouting. We have deep specialist knowledge which enables our interaction with consumers and social activists experiencing the brands. We have strong news sense, and can therefore extend the news cycle. But we need to dare to go beyond our self-imposed boundaries on big idea creative with “own-able” insight. Given our earned media experience and editorial knowledge honed through years of creating and co-producing stories, PR is best suited to partner with paid media. We should be willing to co-produce content with media companies, because they have a better sense of what works in their specific communities (remember Razorbombing!)
Former President Teddy Roosevelt said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” I can assure you that Edelman will be at the bleeding edge of aiming for the right thing, unafraid of the wrong thing.
Richard Edelman is president and CEO.