The evolution of the variety of ways a client leverages a PR agency has certainly accelerated in the past few years. The jump from pure messaging/editorial pitch centers of excellence to a combination of “hits +social” councilors has already solidified both on the B2C and B2B side. However, as you can see in our earned media hub strategy, clients are looking more and more to PR teams to assist in defining, shaping and accelerating market awareness with deeper research and more direct paid promotions such as sponsored Tweets and the like.
What’s been really interesting is how clients are thinking about and defining the post-coverage aspect of this equation – the paid strategy side of the process. Because elements like LinkedIn sponsored ads or sponsored Tweets have clear online measurement and metrics attached to them, many of our marketing contacts immediately jump to thinking of them as lead generation tools. This is often in contrast to how the PR team is thinking about them, mainly as brand amplification tools based on the concept of more widely sharing earned media.
This potential gap is, in my mind, most evident when considering syndication services such as inPowered, Outbrain or Taboolah. (Disclosure: InPowered is a SHIFT client) The core essence of these services look to extend reach of quality stories about your brand; to stem the tide of daily information overload and give your great coverage a new wave of life in a targeted way. In conversations with clients, the decision many times comes down to investment vs. return. The fact that we can measure engagement with syndicated articles is great, however the truth is syndication doesn’t always (or in most cases) bring direct, measurable web site traffic back to client sites.
So, the question is: when do you recommend an additional paid element to your program like syndication. And how do you validate the spend?
First, you need to set clear parameters – syndication (or sponsored posts, etc.) is not lead gen. That’s things like paid ad word campaigns, white papers and the like. Amplification is about expanding brand engagement in a more meaningful way since you are getting a third party validation on your product or service in front of net new audience. All of these services are able to validate in one way or another audience volume and initial action, and you have the knowledge that whoever clicks through to a syndicated piece is engaged with valuable content, not advertising. And we know that content engagement is of much higher value to eventual purchase consideration than direct advertising alone.
Also, since readers are self-selecting to engage with your syndicated article, it’s a great and cost effective way to validate what media content is resonating most with your audience. A/B testing on different articles can help you narrowcast your media strategy and discover new audiences. Cross correlate what you’re seeing from Google Analytics and Webmaster tools to see referred traffic and the multi-funnel traffic effect, and you can start to get a more robust picture of what your audience actually engages with and likes vs. a traditional banner ad strategy. This insight then can directly inform your AdWords campaigns in a more targeted way.
Tools like promotional posts and syndication have their value and are a cost effective way to engage with a larger audience in a noisy information landscape. Use them in a targeted and strategic way, and they can bring intelligence that in concert can power your lead generation in new ways.