As dollars spent on ‘native’ advertising increase, so will the role of creative public relations agenciesDecember 3rd, 2014
by Michael Layne, managing partner, Marx Layne & Co.
As a creative public relations and marketing agency, one of our fundamental roles is to responsibly develop and disseminate content over multiple media outlets in various formats to convey a message that resonates; to “speak with the client’s voice” to other businesses, consumers, business leaders and public officials, and the public at large.
This is nothing new. Edward Bernays, “the father of public relations,” pioneered the dissemination of content through the use of the press release in the 1920’s, and public relations agencies have been telling their clients’ stories in some form or another ever since.
What is new is the fact that media outlets are morphing at warp speed, whether we are talking about the Internet and social media, gaining “impressions” through smartphone apps, cable television or traditional media like newspapers and magazines. In the process, we have learned to optimize content tailored to highly specialized audiences, including through the use of SEO, search engine optimization.
Most recently, we find familiar strategies taking on new life – the advertorial has been reinvented. Repackaged as “native advertising,” paid-for placement of content now mirrors or mimics in look and feel the online media format in which it resides.
The stakes are huge, as all media outlets — but especially newspapers and magazines — fight to sustain and grow revenues. A recent eMarketer report forecasts that companies will spend $4.3 billion on native advertising in 2015, a 34% increase from this year, according to eMarketer. That number is expected to reach $8.8 billion by 2018. This is encouraging news for the public relations industry, with some caveats.
In some ways, native advertising has been prompted by advertiser disenchantment with social media campaigns. While currently in vogue, marketers are finding that social media campaigns may be ineffective and message control can be lost. We’ve all seen how dialogue on outlets Twitter, Facebook and Instagram can take on an unintended and negative life of their own. At the same time, native advertising reflects the fact that in today’s Information Age, people are hungry for facts and the ability to dive deeply into detail regarding the companies, causes or people they are most interested in. Which is a great for public relations practitioners.
There is nothing new about native advertising except its new moniker. We have long been familiar with the placing of advertorials, written materials marked in fine print as “Paid For” content. What is new is its expansion to new digital platforms and its aggressive pursuit by both publishers and advertisers as a growing source of badly needed revenue. Clearly, contextual paid-for content placement, should continue to be clearly marked as such, whether it is found on a website or Sunday supplement in the newspaper.
Beware of “silver bullets.” While the excitement surrounding native advertising is certainly good news for public relations, we have to remember that there is no “one size fits all” marketing strategy. Recently, social media was heralded as a panacea to brands seeking to directly engage with their audiences. That has turned out not to be the case as we wake to an era where Facebook now charges to reach that data base audience so painstakingly built up over the years.
While it may take more time, expertise and effort, we in public relations believe strongly in the cost-effectiveness of non paid-for content that is vetted and disseminated by reputable media formats. This can comprise a guest editorial or letter to the editor, an article for publication in a newspaper, trade or consumer magazine, a radio or television interview or being quoted in a news report. Such “placements” have third-party credibility and, we in the public relations sector believe, when positive, possess as much as three times the value of paid-for placements.
What we do best for clients is understand their goals and objectives, tailor their messages to internal and external audiences, and disseminate these messages with frequency in the right mix, in the right way at the right time, exercising responsibility and integrity. Even as mass and specialized media continues to evolve, that will not change. The consumer of today’s Information Age has a thirst for deep and compelling content that educates. And while we will expertly employ every existing tool to provide that content, we will continue to do so in a personalized, integrated and ethical way.