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Comms leaders share earned media trends for 2018

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We’ve only just turned the calendar to 2018, but already the year is shaping up to be one of continued change for earned media and one of opportunity for brands looking to harness it.

Legacy media brands have launched new channels. Apple has put into beta an analytics tool that promises to bring overdue metric rigor to podcasts. And a major U.S. marketer says more of its brands are embracing earned media to lead their marcomms.

Three agency pros and two brand comms leaders share their predictions, tell how their marcomms is evolving with earned media, and discuss the trends they’re watching this year.

From hype to reality

Kate Ryan, MD, U.S., at Diffusion, says the biggest earned media activation “we’ll all be talking about in 2018 may well be executed in virtual reality.”

In bringing some of their stories and coverage to life, The New York Times, Time magazine, Associated Press, and CNN have all invested in VR and AR technology.

For instance, Time made its January 5 Optimist issue its first that could be read in augmented reality. By downloading the Life VR app, readers could see behind-the-scenes videos, infographics, and animations.



“Media outlets continue to experiment with VR, AI, and AR,” notes Ryan. “There will be great opportunities for brands who can find creative but appropriate ways to use these emerging technologies in their campaigns.

“Comms pros who aren’t as comfortable incorporating new tech into their campaigns will need to get up to speed fast because it won’t just be the tech PR pros pitching campaigns that will be covered in these new media.”

Pure play newsletters

Forecasters say media brands will continue to expand their reach into pure play newsletters delivered to readers’ email inboxes.

At the start of the year, Forbes launched Innovation Rx, a weekly newsletter that covers new trends and disruption in the healthcare industry. That brings Forbes’ slate of newsletters to five, including Passport (luxury travel) and Next Step (aimed at ambitious women). Newsletters about and for women are a particularly hot category.

Last summer, The Washington Post debuted The Lily, an online publication for millennial women that includes a twice-weekly newsletter. Meanwhile, Fortune’s popular Broadsheet is an extension of its Most Powerful Women brand.



Lisa Kovitz, MD, U.S., consumer media for Edelman, says this is an exciting new place for brands to land coverage. “Pure play newsletters feature original content, rather than only a curation of existing articles,” she adds. “A lot of these newsletters have growing and loyal subscriber bases.”

Turbocharging credibility

PR practitioners that do outreach to mainstream media titles should be ready for questions that go well beyond the obvious or superficial.

Amid shrinking newsrooms, surveys in recent years have reported a growing consumer mistrust of media outlets. Media are on their toes in terms of ensuring journalistic integrity.

“We’re at a time when journalists are asking much deeper questions about corporate and political narratives, as well as about our current economic and social climate,” says Jim Goldman, EVP, media, Zeno Group. “We are seeing this with the coverage in Washington, Hollywood, and Silicon Valley.”

He explains this is changing how brands tell their stories to the media. Anything a brand claims needs to be backed by data, third-party validation, and interviews.

Brands can further improve the credibility of their stories by beginning these narratives in media striving to deliver high-quality, thoroughly fact-checked reporting.

“Everyone is trying to turbocharge their credibility and authenticity factor. That begins with getting your narrative in exceptionally high-quality earned media, so long as you’re prepared to answer the tough questions,” notes Goldman.

PR will lead convergence

Jamie Stein, senior director, comms, beer division, Constellation Brands – whose portfolio at the distributor and marketer of imported beer, spirits, and wines includes Corona Extra, Modelo Chelada, and Ballast Point – says “PR has the opportunity to bring a converged strategy to our brands. We’re seeing this happen more and more.”

She notes, “We used to secure a story with USA Today or The Wall Street Journal to serve as the springboard for additional earned media coverage. It was mass reach and would drive additional coverage via print, online, and TV.”

However, today media coverage often snowballs “from social chatter, consumer-generated content, and influencers,” she explains.

“As a result, we should define PR more broadly and realize our role as practitioners needs to be multi-dimensional, taking into consideration paid, owned, and shared channels. Focusing solely on a single lever and media no longer works if you want to create real impact.”


“Everyone is trying to turbocharge their credibility and authenticity factor. That begins with getting your narrative in exceptionally high-quality earned media, so long as you’re prepared to answer the tough questions”
Jim Goldman, Zeno Group



Listen up

Pros expect podcasts to get their due as a legitimate media to get their stories heard. Apple recently started a beta on its long-promised iTunes podcast analytics service for the tracking and reporting of listener behavior. Soon, podcast creators will be able to share data such as unique device counts and how many people listened to a podcast in its entirety.

Media brands have invested in the audio platform. For instance, early last year, The New York Times launched The Daily. It regularly ranks as one of the top three most downloaded podcasts on iTunes every week.

“You can’t book a client on there, but that is where storytelling is happening and where some people are getting their news,” says Edelman’s Kovitz. “We’re bullish on podcasts that are very focused in areas such as food, travel, personal finance, and money.”

She cites The Sporkful food podcast with James Beard Award-nominated host Dan Pashman as one example.

Mobile optimization

Understanding that so much news consumption is happening real-time on mobile devices, “the pressure is on PR practitioners to stay current on breaking news and trends to craft pitches that place a story within an overarching narrative,” explains Craig Dezern, VP, brand communications, Hilton.


“Pure play newsletters feature original content, rather than only a curation of existing articles. A lot of these newsletters have growing and loyal subscriber bases”
Lisa Kovitz, Edelman



“The PR shops that drive the most coverage with the highest impact will be those that provide reporters with easy-to-use building blocks for an authentic and compelling story – straightforward releases and fact sheets, news style photography and video, infographics – all optimized for mobile.”

When it comes to measuring that impact, he says Hilton is looking for deeper analysis and metrics. “One trend I’m hoping will continue in 2018 is the declining use of raw impressions as a PR metric.”


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