Time to get off our high horses over paid media

I read a pithy comment from talented and very experienced PR lady Judy Wilks in response to the Holmes Report’s Aarti Shah this morning that we have to get off our high horses over paid media and embrace it.

Emotive terms always quicken the pulse of course, but I think she’s spot on. One big factor that may encumber the readiness of PR agencies to integrate paid media into their editorial (alright, call it content then..) planning is that they’re simply conditioned to turn their noses up at it.


In the past, in the days when conventional media was the primary proxy for influence, PR firms were largely intermediaries between clients and the press. So we had to understand how the press works, and build services that reflected – in part – those of mechanics. That meant content which generated news coverage, content for features, contibuted articles, newsjacking comments, arranging interviews and much more. We stayed on the editorial side of the fence probably not because that’s what media businesses were actually like, but because that’s what we knew. And there was plenty going on to keep us occupied.

Media businesses aren’t just about editorial though. While it may rile a grizzled hack, the reality is that editorial and advertising have always been compatriots in media businesses and increasingly the lines are blurred. Go back 21 years (in a couple of weeks..) to my first week as a junior news reporter on a local newspaper when print was still dominant, and here’s the content I produced:

– A bunch of short news stories (most of them parochial and very strange)

– Two lengthy features

– Copy for a paid advertorial

– Three short pieces for a paid supplement: editorial content, but to sit alongside advertorial to give balance to the supplement

– There was even some direct engagement, even if that was mailing badges to new Kids’ Club recruits and answering the postbag for the Women’s Page

Editorial and advertising were different disciplines, and yes it was easy to spot the journalist versus the ad guy by their clothes, car and banter, but we worked together closely on producing the product of print pages and the newspaper’s related brand-led activity. We didn’t just co-exist, we collaborated. Even if it meant the newbie got the short straw of judging the Best Dressed Little Alien competition at the local McDonald’s.

In PR we’ve historially been guilty of seeing paid as somehow beneath us, or impinging on the purity of earned editorial. But earned is a commercial venture of course, so somewhere, somehow, it’s all paid. That ‘free’ content is there, in it myriad of modern forms, to give balance, purpose or intrigue for products that have, typically, purely commercial intentions.

So while we’re at a relatively early stage with paid media, we must innovate. We’ve got to push the boundaries of conventional approaches, experiment a little and find new ways of this all fitting together, to give more advantageous ways of creating influence and to cut through the clutter of a fragmented media landscape.

You might think you get a better view from a high horse, but it’s time to tackle integrated media planning – and in particular the integration of paid media – at street level.

  • Elle7158

    PR is not merely media relations. Public RELATIONS is about identifying, building and maintaining stakeholder relationships that impact an organization, and vice versa. Media is but one active group among that list of priority stakeholders. That priority group also sees themselves very separate from the ad and promotional side–and they would thank you to know it. When you work with bigger-fish than the local newspaper, you learn that. Journalists really don’t like you discussing their work in terms of “earned media.” When you understand that, you are on better footing to develop media RELATIONSHIPS.

  • Simon Sanders

    Of course, paid media isn’t a new concept to PR…. 

    (I’ve been doing it for 20 years – and I don’t suppose for one moment I was the first to do it)

    Over the years, this has included most if not all of the following….

    Advertorials, promotions, sponsorship, portal partnerships, content seeding, PPC for campaign promotion or crisis management, promoted Tweets, Facebook ads, news-jacking display ads – these are all forms of paid media executions.

    I agree though, many in the PR industry shy away from asking for the budget they need, or even thinking about solutions that encompass these opportunities.

    Let’s be frank, “paying for it” has never had a good ring about it! 

    My experience though is that clients don’t have these hang-ups. They don’t really care if their ad agency comes up with “PR” ideas, or their PR agency comes up with something that needs paid media support. So, yes, agree, some in the PR industry, need to realises they can – and must  – do, whatever it takes to communicate ideas, messages and campaigns, and drive the actions required. .

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