The Question That Makes Every Communicator Squirm

Many falling blocks with question marks. 3d illustration

You’ve pulled your web analytics, downloaded social media dashboards, and generated detailed reports showing open, click-through, and conversion rates from your last campaign. Well done, data pro. So, in preparation for your meeting with the C-Suite, just one more question:

How did you add value?

In other words, can you explain the financial contributions your earned media efforts are making to the sell-through of products or services? Based on the data just released in the 2019 PR Week/Cision Global Comms Report entitled, “Path to Progress,” the answer is mixed.

The survey, now in its third year, polls senior-level marketing and communications pros across the industry spectrum on the tools, talents, and tactics they’re using to move the needle with their earned media programs. Some 527 practitioners from North America, Europe, and Asia participated.

Jumping Off the Paid Media Bandwagon

One of the first things that emerges from the global report is how earned media is closing the gap on paid or sponsored promotion, leaping 8 percentage points year-on-year. In the U.S., the survey shows that the spend on PR and social media outreach has actually surpassed advertising and is outpacing the spend on corporate communications as well:

Allocation of Overall Media Budget*  
Paid Media: 35%
Earned Media: 34% (39% in U.S)
Owned Media 31%

*source: 2019 PR Week/Cision Global Comms Report

That’s long awaited news for communicators that have watched splashy ad campaigns soak up disproportionate share of annual budgets and fail to deliver desired outcomes. However, as the chart below indicates, PR pros have their own challenges:

What’s Missing in Media Analysis

Summarizing the data, it’s apparent that comms pros have an increasingly better handle on how people are engaging with their earned media. What’s far less certain, however, is what the audience is doing after they consume it. 

When marketers or communicators can’t measure the impact of press release content, blogs, contributed articles, social media conversations, infographics, speaker videos, published white papers and other forms of earned media, it’s only fair to ask how much money should be spent producing it.

Here’s my recommendation for how best to pre-empt that uncomfortable conversation:

  • Build a smart tech stack necessary to capture the most relevant data.
  • Do the heavy lifting necessary to understand the relationships between data points
  • Connect your data sets to quantifiable business outcomes 

Understanding and mapping customer journeys from earned media is imperative to building enterprise value. In this case that term can be applied in two ways: the growth of your company – and what you did to increase it.

Michael Shepherd

Michael serves as Managing Partner of The Shepherd Group, a brand and communications firm with offices in Seattle and Newport Beach. A former journalist, he specializes in building narratives through discovery, design, and development of branded editorial and visual content.