In our last post in this series I stated that earned content isn't a sure thing no matter how much effort and cost you put into it. That's because earned content -- news coverage that is beneficial to your cause, product or company -- has too many variable in the form of timing, resources within the news community and the interest of the general reading public. Because of that confluence of variables, most companies don't approach public relations strategically but keep it in the tactical menu. That's also why most PR efforts fail to impress the people that pay for them.
That is not to say that earned media cannot be a strategic effort.
Over the past decade, more and more companies have been pursuing a strategic earned media strategy by hiring laid-off editors and freelancers to run internal media efforts. Some of the editors were not laid off but left because the money was just too good and others had been laid off for several months before the companies picked them up. For example, Cadence, Xilinx and Altera have all hired editors that once worked at United Business Media and Reed publications. This is a very good thing because these companies have recognized the skill and integrity of these journalists and want them to apply those attributes to their internal publications. But there are two problems with these types of programs.
First, most companies, however, cannot afford to make the expenditure of putting someone on salary and building an infrastructure around their work. Second, the audience for the work is captive, existing behind the firewall with limited outreach. Furthermore, as much as the journalists creating the content are trustworthy, because the audience knows that this content is fully under control of the sponsoring company, it's trustworthiness is still suspect.
Remember that true earned content has to come from a third party. Independent publications from media houses, like UBM, still carry the cachet of trust and therefore are more valuable. Even contributed material, like opinion pieces and press releases, can boost their integrity a bit by appearing in one of these third party publication... but they are not as trusted as the content created by an independent journalist. That's still the holy grail for content... and it can be planned for and executed.
For the past six months, Footwasher Media has been running a strategic earned media program for a public company. In those six months we have created more than 60 pieces of content, with input from but independent of the sponsoring company, using the services of experienced and known journalists in the tech community. That content has been shared with partnering media companies and published close to 200 times internationally. The articles and videos have been viewed on the sponsor's site by more than 27,000 unique viewers (that's real people, not spider hits) and the partner publications have driven more than 4500 qualified leads to the sponsor. The sponsor has stated that the content published has raised the visibility of the company among the international press to the degree that they have seen a serious increase in the number of unsolicited calls from the press in general.
So how is it happening? First, Footwasher Media has cultivated relationships with the press management over decades allowing a frank and open discussion of what is and isn't independent content. We have dedicated ourselves to a standard of ethics that goes beyond lip-service and puts it in writing. That creates a perception of trustworthiness in our relationship with them. Second, our content is not behind a firewall, it's in the open and available to an audience larger than the sales base of the sponsor. Third, we work with the sponsor openly and honestly. We tell them when something will or won't work in the program while remaining open to their suggestions. We treat them as a source, first and foremost, not just, a source of income. Fourth, and finally, we act as a true intermediary in the discussion between the sponsor and the traditional press making sure both understand the needs of the other, not advocating for either. Let's look at it graphically.
In the previous post I showed the relationship of earned, social, owned and purchased media, along with the levels of cost, effort and trustworthiness. In this chart I add strategic earned media to the mix, placing it between social and tactical earned. A strategic effort takes a bit more effort that tactical and costs more, but it drives up the creation of tactical and reduces the cost and effort that goes into tactical. As a result, social, owned and purchased all get dragged closer to and in some case into the trust zone.
We live in a world that lacks both barriers and trust. While the rest of the world watches and shares what the corporate world and press produce, most of the producers are still trying to put some level of control on it. That is not going to change. Someone has to stand up and tackle the problem from a different angle. That's what we are doing.
It is a different way of looking at the exchange and dissemination of information to the world. That's what it takes: open, honest, transparent and independent communication.
And it works.