earned media

Trust = Barrier to Earned Digital Media Coverage

Digital media outlets are more open these days to content supplied by PR firms. At the same time, reporters remain highly skeptical of PR professionals who they claim too often provide misleading information.

The findings come from the 2015 Media Influencers Report prepared by D S Simon, a digital video communications firm. "Communicators are missing out on significant opportunities to earn media with their content in the digital space," the report says.

More than three-quarters of producers and journalists who responded to survey questions indicate they have used video they didn't produce. Almost the same percentage expressed willingness to post links or entire videos to digital outlets affiliated with television and radio stations, newspapers, magazines and blogger sites.

"This provides an unequaled opportunity for direct communication of the entire PR or marketing message to consumers," says Doug Simon, CEO of D S Simon.

However, PR professionals need to be careful not to foul their own nest. Ninety percent of producers and reporters say they have been misled by PR professionals, with a quarter of them saying they are misled often, which means there is an underlying lack of trust. A common problem is the failure to include proper disclosures on submitted video content.

There also is a gap in taking advantage of opportunities for "brand integration," which involves combining earned and paid media in a communications channel. Simon says it is easier for marketers to go for paid media instead of scratching a little harder for ways to earn media coverage.

The voracious appetite of media for fresh or compelling content, especially video content, is what has wedged open the door for third-party submissions. TV stations simply don't have enough film crews to fill up all the time slots devoted to news, which is why, according to the report, 93 percent of them accept third-party video. More than 80 percent of website producers, 78 percent of bloggers and 73 percent of magazines follow the same practice.

While B-Roll (pre-filmed material that often serves as background) is the top source of third-party digital content for TV stations, website producers and bloggers depend on it for infographics. Virtually all media outlets use images supplied by third-parrty sources. Newspapers, magazines, websites, bloggers and even radio stations will link or include entire videos on their online platforms.

The report suggests digital platform managers look for news ideas on social media. Facebook and Twitter are by far the greenest pastures for producers and reporters, but there is significant attention paid to LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram.

Television producers and newspaper assignment editors are the most likely to accept a story pitch via social media, but you can get luck with radio and website editors and bloggers, too.

As barriers have crumbled between public relations, marketing and advertising, new opportunities have risen for brand integration. Simon says this is still an emerging arena in which 50 percent of the PR professionals who inquire about it are shuttled off to news outlet advertising departments.

"Improving the quality of your creative content, pitch angles and relationships with the media increases the percentage of media you earn rather than pay for," says Simon. "While brand integration has a role, earning digital media is a more credible and authentic way to communicate with your key audiences."

Unusual and Outrageous Keys to Earned Media

Carl's Jr. leveraged its brash brand personality to earn scads of media coverage, including a live segment on the Today show, on the introduction of its belly-busting "barbecue in a bun" burger.

Carl's Jr. leveraged its brash brand personality to earn scads of media coverage, including a live segment on the Today show, on the introduction of its belly-busting "barbecue in a bun" burger.

The value of earned media is to tell your story inside the news hole, not in the boundaries of advertising space. There is no better example of effective earned media than the promotion this week of Carl's Jr. Thickburger.

Brash is part of the band personality for Carl's Jr. Playing off that brash image, it introduced what it calls an entire barbecue in a bun – an oversized burger, accessorized with tomato, lettuce, pickle, ketchup, cheese, hot dog and potato chips. This puppy weighs in at 1,030 calories and 64 grams of fat.

Since the earned media opportunity was spun out, news outlets have stumbled over themselves to report this belly-busting burger. Stories with pictures of the plump burger appeared in USA Today, the Huffington Post and major daily newspapers.

The anchor team on NBC's Today show did a segment where four cast members talked about, then took a sloppy bite from the burger, which the PR team from Carl's Jr. just happened to provide. The value of this kind of exposure is, let's just say, worth a whole lot more than the $5.79 price tag for the Thickburger.

Anyone who has seen a Carl's Jr. TV ad knows they are outrageous-bordering-on-gross. People chomp into a large burger, dripping sauce all over themselves. The Thickburger earned media campaign employs the same outrageousness. That's what makes it "news."

Come out with a hamburger with bacon and you will get a yawn from news editors and producers. Slap on a hot dog and there is instant interest. The hot dog may taste sort of like bacon, but it's a hot dog. You know, at barbecues, you get a choice between a hamburger and a hot dog. Now, you don't have to choose.

You also don't have to worry about where on your plate to juggle your potato chips. They are in the bun, too.

When many fast food restaurants are wrestling with how to offer healthier fare, Carl's Jr. goes for the jugular – or a coronary artery. There is no hemming and hawing about calories or fat. Carl's Jr. puts it out there proudly, not defensively. And the chain calls the Thickburger "all American."

The outrageous doesn't always work for brands or idea merchants that initiate earned media campaigns. The lesson isn't about outrage; it's about breaking through the noise barrier with something that is different, catchy or unexpected. It's also about "news" that can have an extended life through social media, the stuff people read and share.

The unusual and the outrageous can earn media you don't have to pay for from your advertising budget. But don't avoid earned media just because your product, service or idea isn't unusual or outrageous. You can create an appealing news hook by finding what's truly different and building your earned media pitch around it.

Negative Publicity Pays Off

Samantha Hess has taken some ribbing, including in the news media, for her new career as professional cuddler. It all seems to be working out for her.

Normally, PR wizards advise against bad publicity. For example, who would advise Donald Trump to keep that horrific comb-over hairdo that makes him the butt of parodies? Yet, the Trumpster's popularity continues to grow. 

But in Hess' case, the snickering publicity about cuddling has given her and her startup business a giant boost. Her coverage ranges from a tabloid that shouted a headline, "Who'll Give Me Cash for Cuddles?" to a button-down news business review in the Portland Business Review. There also have been pieces on CNN, Yahoo, NBC News, CBS Sunday Morning and the London Daily Mail.

Media about her has touched 14 million viewers and counting, without spending a dime on advertising. More attention will come as her book, Touch, the Power of Human Connection, hits bookshelves and her business opens its doors in Portland, billed as the first retail cuddling center in North America.

Hess, 29, told PBJ Editor Rob Smith she got the idea for Cuddle Up To Me when she saw a man on the street with a sign that offered to give a hug for $2. The dollar sign was less of an inspiration than the notion that many people have a deep desire to be held and made to feel secure. Comforting people seemed more rewarding than her previous office job.

She has been cuddling clients since last summer and says her typical client is someone who feels lonely, such as a widow, divorced woman or single dad. "Most people just relax and get to feel okay for a while," Hess told Smith.

The Good Business of Owning Your Mistakes

Lucky passengers booked almost free airline tickets which United Airlines agreed to honor, despite a computer snafu, snatching a business win from a bonehead mistake.United Airlines announced today it will honor tickets purchased Thursday between $0 and $10 as a result of a computer glitch, proving it is smart business to own your mistakes.

Travelocity faced a similar situation a few years back involving $51 tickets to Fiji, which occurred just as it was pushing out a customer bill of rights. The CEO of the online travel agency made an identical decision to honor the low-cost tickets as a sign of her company's integrity.

As painful and expensive as such mistakes seem, they can wind up as relatively inexpensive marketing opportunities. Your company becomes more than a ticket vendor. You become a trusted brand.

United Airlines declined to say how many lucky shoppers snapped up low-price tickets. But chances are there were quite a few and certainly more than enough to scuff up a social media dust storm if the airline tried to weasel out of honoring the tickets.