A roadmap for brands to combining paid, owned and earned media

Posted on July 19, 2012 9:59 am by | Marketing | Media | Monitoring | Social Media

Rebecca Leib and Jeremiah OwyangIf there is one overarching, indisputable truth about the our networked world, it is this: The digitization of everything means pretty much anybody has access to pretty much anything, so everything gets mixed up in one big stew. However your content started out, it has been found and viewed in God-knows-how-many different contexts. It has been tweeted, tagged and pinned, liked, plus-oned and shared. It has been displayed in curated collections, summarized in email bulletins and combined with unrelated material on content portals.

It’s a mixed-up, mashed-up world. Network news reports show up on YouTube. YouTube videos show up on network news reports and late-night variety shows. Really good commercials rise to the level of entertainment and get shared. Memes appear from nowhere, further altering the context of the original, for better or worse. Marketers hijack news for their own purposes. Consumers can organize quickly around anything they don’t like, even the unveiling of a new logo.

Standalone functions vs. converged media

This, more than anything, is confounding organizations that struggle to cope with the digitization of everything and connecting of everybody. Organizations are structured to contain teams of specialists in discrete units to produce one kind of content. Marketing, advertising, marketing communications, and public relations all work within established global infrastructures (think media buying), through processes embedded and ingrained over close to a century.

It’s a struggle because the digital environment doesn’t treat any of it like distinct objects. People don’t look at a post, a video or an image and immediately classify it as professional journalism, marketing, advertising, earned media or publicity. The lines aren’t just blurred. They’re vanishing.

And the effect is spreading. Televisions are now smart and connected, and even the offline world is feeling the impact with billboards and product packaging displaying QR codes and Facebook and Twitter logos.

Mama Ragu, circa 1996None of this is breaking news, of course. I used to show Ragu’s terrific website from the mid-1990s, based entirely on the invented persona of Mama, whose personality infused every aspect of the site. Even the legal disclaimer on the jar read, “This next part was written by Mama’s nephew, Peter, the lawyer.” But Mama didn’t grace the jars of sauce on supermarket shelves, nor in print advertising, nor on television advertising. Product packaging, advertising and web creative were different departments and they didn’t talk to each other much.

But with our increasing connectedness and reliance on our digital infrastructure, this continued focus on distinct types of content—earned, owned, paid and social—is causing more and more problems.

A report released today by the Altimeter Group has taken a good stab at articulating the problem from a business perspective and outlining a path from the islands of communication that most companies sustain to a more integrated approach that reflects the actual situation on the ground.

“The Converged Media Imperative: How Brands Must Combine Paid, Owned and Earned Media”—by Rebecca Lieb and Jeremiah Owyang with Jessica Groopman and Chris Silva—identifies three formerly distinct classes of media that have been converging online: paid, owned and earned. The authors lump social channels like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter into the “owned” category. I prefer the approach that splits these into a distinct fourth “social” category, since companies with a Facebook presence (for example) neither own Facebook nor have the ability to control Facebook’s various caprices (such as eliminating landing tabs and forcing companies to adopt the Timeline).

The idea of overlapping types of media has been hashed and rehashed for years, like here, here and here. But these are minor quibbles.

The fact remains that your advertising department can’t launch a standalone campaign without considering the digital and social implications; they’ll converge, whether you planned it or not. Back in March 2008, I interviewed ad agency creative director John January who noted then that any ad campaign had to ultimately drive people to a social channel.

The silos in which communication functions are cloistered present all manner of obstacles to convergence, according to the report. Each department has its own perspectives on social. Each department is working toward departmental objectives, which are often in conflict with their communication cousins on another floor. Not many companies maintain any kind of superstructure that binds the various communication departments with a unifying strategy.

The situation isn’t any better with agencies—which are configured to churn out campaigns and collateral and struggle to stay current with changing dynamics and tools—or vendors, which have designed their software based on clearly-defined areas of expertise and are in a constant state of flux exacerbated b y the pace of acquisition.

What Success Looks Like

The report offers a four-part model for successful convergence, along with a detailed checklist of requirements for each of the four parts:

  • Strategy—Understanding the changing forces of converged media and planning a stable foundation for coordination of resources
  • Organization—Aligning teams, departments, agencies and vendors
  • Production—Aligning content and creative across the various channels and accounting for the web’s real-time nature and remaining nimble at identifying and exploiting the right mix of channels, including new ones, and being able to skip from one to another in mid-course based on feedback; focusing on earned media gets special attention, along with the related practice of building relationships with influencers
  • Analysis—Monitoring the chatter and using the data to determine whether you’re hit your key performance indicators are at the heart of analyzing the impact of your efforts.

Done well, a converged workflow looks like this, according to the report:

Converged Media Workflow

The report includes several mini case studies of various kinds of convergence. The New York (football) Giants demonstrate how to bring owned and earned media together, for example, while National Car Rental is the poster child for earned and paid media.

All this—covered in the first 16 pages—is a tidy summary of what we already know, leading nicely to the heart of the report (in addition to the requirements checklist): the actual steps the authors suggest marketers and their companies have to take in order to move beyond the current state of capabilities, knowledge and processes scattered across departments, agencies and vendors. The section is short but the work is long and hard; changing long-held and well-established organizational structures is never easy, and maintaining some distinct specialization is still necessary.

Advertising specialists, for example, know how to work with media buyers. PR knows how and to whom to pitch a story to earn coverage. The authors aren’t suggesting that everybody learn everybody else’s business, but that bridges are built that bring the teams together where individual skills and functional processes serve a greater whole.

Getting agencies and vendors to get on board is also the brand’s responsibility. “Brands have to insist everyone plays nice in the sandbox,” says Stephanie Agresta, EVP and managing director of social media for Weber Shandwick, one of 35 experts interviewed for the study. “There are a lot of agencies that won’t work with other agencies. I’ve seen brands require different agencies to work together and meet together simply because (the brand) requires multiple agencies for a single (converged) campaign. This is a huge step in social, in terms of sharing, thinking, learning, and education.”

It All Comes Down to Content

The authors also wisely shine a light on the need to create great content, “the glue that holds this troika together.” It also adds a brief note about challenges, notably a heightened need for transparency and disclosure.

The report focuses squarely on marketing and doesn’t address non-marketing PR, but the principles are the same; the situation analysis and recommendations apply.

I did have a few other minor issues with the report. For instance, earned media is almost exclusively defined as user-generated content; only in a graphic is there a nod to press coverage. Yet public relations has created a whole industry around earning press coverage; it’s what the term “earned media” has meant since Edward Bernays plied his trade in the 1920s and 30s. Mainstream media remains unquestionably important. The report also claims that measuring ROI is harder with earned media than any other. Advertising has never been able to draw a causal link between ads and sales, while public relations measurement is a fully-mature discipline; people who know what they’re doing (Katie Paine leaps to mind) can easily report the outcomes from earning media coverage and user-generated content.

For organizations struggling with social media across their various communication functions, the report—free, as are all Altimeter studies—could serve as a kick-starter to the organizational changes required to manage the media convergence that defines the digital world.

Here’s the report; you can also get it from Altimeter’s site. (Altimeter provided me with advance access with an embargo until 10 a.m. today, to which I agreed.)


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