Why earned media should be considered earned conversations
Opinion piece from Steve Kirk, MD of Consumer at M&C Saatchi TALK
The term ‘earned media’ has only really grown in prominence across the industry during the last decade, but arguably it is already out of date.
Not long ago, earned media set the agenda and led the news cycle. Stories from brands were distributed to, or seeded with press and newspapers broke these stories, sharing content for the first time and leaving paid or owned channels to follow in the wake. A lot of people thought an ‘earned-first approach’ referred to the chronological order of campaign assets – in that PR released earned content first.
Now the industry is experiencing a continual shift towards stories and conversations that begin on social media, in local communities and via messaging services. Some 68% of the UK source their news via mobile devices and recently Ofcom found TikTok is the fastest growing news source for UK adults.
It means editorial content is being created in different ways, for different audiences. It means stories don’t just exist in one medium and that success for brands no longer just means earning just media coverage – it’s about earning conversations that can take place across a wider number of platforms, channels and publications consecutively or concurrently.
For brands and agencies, this means changing focus, as solely driving traditional earned media coverage won’t attract the level of attention needed to make a serious impact. It means understanding what conversations your audience is having, where they are having them and how best to join and lead those conversations.
Conversations That Matter
The most impactful conversations don’t start with what a commercial entity wants to talk about, they start with what an audience wants to hear or is already discussing. Brands need to keep this in mind when telling stories.
In some ways, PR is playing catch-up with other marketing disciplines, which have used data to hyper-target audiences and tailor content for specific consumer groups – then track performance against commercial metrics.
With so much more information now available on audience and media conversation, PR communications can follow digital media in better understanding where content is being consumed and by who, and then design conversations to earn attention in the right spaces.
By taking advantage of the latest tools to pinpoint the platforms and moments where the most impactful conversations are taking place, brands can identify the content and messages that resonate the strongest.
Helpful tools include Quid, which enables comms teams to learn more on story networks and conversation clusters, as well as identifying the leading voices in these conversations. Our strategists also analyse social conversation to highlight relevant emerging topics within macro themes and the speed at which these are gathering engagement, so we can foresee what may be written about next, as well as what’s being talked about now.
The End of Front Page News
Once upon a time, the holy grail of communications was landing a positive piece of coverage for your client’s brand on the front page of a newspaper. But when was the last time you actually saw the front page of a newspaper, let alone read one? In the age of page views, dwell time and click throughs – is front page news a metric that matters?
Many journalists are solely focused on stories that generate the most traffic and shares across social media – or that work best for aggregators and other distribution channels in an effort to draw the almighty advertising dollar (and job security).
Editors aren’t even curating the ‘front page news’ anymore, this is being selected for individuals by algorithms, based on user behaviour and preferences. Editorial is thrust towards us by aggregators and notifications from social platforms. These top-ranking stories are the new front-page news, and it’s important for brands to understand how they are picked up by the algorithms and what makes them get pushed to the front of the queue.
Changes in the world of publishing and established media present a chance to rethink approaches to media and influencer relations.
Often, greater impact can be driven by fewer stories told by genuinely influential voices on a topic that matters to your goals, as opposed to quantity of articles or reach of influencer.
Gone are the days of media target lists with 200+ targets and unrealistic reach figures. The age of the scattergun, hit-and-hope approach has passed. It’s time to laser focus on the voices who’re leading and igniting conversations that genuinely matter against brand and business goals – and set the right KPIs that support these.
And as consumer conversations across multiple channels are now dictating the rules of engagement, brands must identify the appropriate channel while adapting their messaging and assets to fit the role consumers expect them to play.
It means no longer focusing on either earned media or social media channels but looking to lead earned conversations with a blended approach across all channels and platforms where the audience is consuming, sharing and creating content.
At M&C Saatchi Talk, we have adopted a conversation-first model, which starts and ends with the conversations in culture and business that matter. We know and understand the importance of utilising a combination of human insight and hard data to understand conversations better, from who is leading those conversations, to where they are taking place and when they resonate most with target audiences.
This model allows us to develop campaigns that place brands at the centre of these conversations, so they are responding to what’s being talked about in a way that resonates with an audience, or leading the conversation in a new direction based on what matters to target consumers.