Digital Advertising and Public Relations, Part 3: Advertising Strategies

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Public relations professionals often make mention of the concepts of earned, owned, and paid media. However, when they begin to talk about media, they quickly brushed past paid media. Ignoring paid media is a capital mistake; doing so ignores a body of strategies and tactics which complement and enhance the power of earned media and public relations. In this series, we’ll examine the tools, techniques, and strategies of paid advertising as they apply to public relations work.

Advertising strategies

In paid media, we can pursue four fundamental strategies and outcomes. As with other forms of media, the purpose of paid media is to:

  • Capture attention
  • Build awareness
  • Transfer trust
  • Elicit a specific behavior or outcome

Notice anything familiar? Paid media often has the same outcomes as public relations, as earned media. Media is media today, whether it’s paid, earned, or owned. Our audiences care less about what kind of media they’re consuming and care more about whether the media is entertaining, engaging, or educational.The four advertising strategies to drive attention, awareness, trust, and behavior are syndication, brand building, direct response, and retargeting. Let’s explore each of these.

Brand building: capturing attention

The first and most common use of advertising is to capture attention. For many industries, the customer journey begins with capturing the attention of our audience. Certainly, earned media can accomplish that, but paid media is much easier to target. We can reach very specific, narrow audiences with advertising as a way of attracting eyes and starting conversations we’re not a part of.For example, last year, SHIFT was tasked with capturing the attention of a particular consumer audience segment that loved a specific kind of food. Thanks to modern advertising tools, we were able to reach exactly those people, five miles or less away from our client’s locations, and spur awareness of the product.Brand building advertising campaigns complement thought leadership and new product campaigns very well.

Retargeting: building awareness

The second use of advertising is a method called retargeting. Have you ever shopped online, not bought something, and then seen ads for what you were browsing on every website you visited thereafter? That’s retargeting. Done well, retargeting keeps your company in mind. Retargeting builds awareness, reminding your audience that you exist and that, should they choose to reconsider shopping for that item, you’re ready to be of service.Retargeting works for nearly any kind of business, from B2B to B2C to eCommerce, even to brick and mortar stores thanks to the Internet of Things.Retargeting works very well for product announcements and news releases on brand websites.

Syndication: transferring trust

We syndicate or amplify content about us written by third parties. For example, suppose SHIFT Communications appeared favorably in Forbes Magazine. Would we want audiences to see that piece? Absolutely! It’s an endorsement of who we are and what we do. Thus, we’d pay for advertising to that specific piece of coverage. Why pay, if we earned the coverage?We live with a massive media overload, something Mark W. Schaefer calls Content Shock. We did an analysis of news story volume using the entire Google News database; in 1995 (when today’s college graduates were born), news sources published 1.78 million stories.


Last year, news sources (including new media like Google News-accredited blogs and new outlets like Mashable, Vice, etc.) published 65 million stories - a 33x increase. This year, we’re on track to publish 88.4 million stories. That’s content shock, and why any earned media must be accompanied by paid media today. Without amplification, without syndication, our positive news stories simply will not be seen by our audiences.

Direct response: driving behavior

The final use of advertising, and the most common for eCommerce and B2B, is direct response. Direct response is about creating a measurable behavior, such as buying an item online, scheduling a demo, or filling out a form.Today’s advertising platforms can even cut out the middle step of sending someone to a website, allowing a transaction to be performed inside an ad. Direct response advertising also works very well with real world campaigns; modern ad systems can target locations down to a few meters, allowing us to reach people nearby.Direct response works very well with product announcements, product revival campaigns, and real world events.

Which strategy is right?

Deciding which strategy is the right one for our media and marketing depends on what outcome we need.

  • If we need attention most, choose brand building.
  • If we need awareness, choose retargeting.
  • If we need trust, choose syndication.
  • If we need sales/actions, choose direct response.

The most critical takeaway is that we must integrate our advertising into our marketing communications. Few things are as unproductive as an ad campaign communicating a different, contrary message to our PR campaign.

Next: digital channels

In the next post in this series, we’ll examine the different digital advertising channels available to us, for businesses and PR teams of any size.

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