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Fighting above your weight with earned media

Luke DeRouen, Arby's

No surprises here. Go big or go home. Consider an angle or audience your larger competitors can’t or won’t pursue, and dive in.

Luke DeRouen, Arby’s


Imagine if the business world operated in weight classes. You only compete with companies your size. No more constantly checking in on the big guys or grinding away to do more with less. The playing field is leveled.

Now back to reality. Big competitors with bloated budgets are omnipresent. Their monthly ad spend is your annual marketing budget. They blink and the market shifts, impacting your plans dramatically. That dream of a level playing field sounds pretty glorious right about now for those of us in the lighter weight classes of our industries.

But as communications leaders, going toe-to-toe with industry heavyweights is our fight – from idea to execution. When paid runs out, earned must carry the day. It’s an incredible opportunity to lead our organizations beyond size and budget constraints.

Here are a few things to remember when fighting above your weight with earned media.

Take big swings, but stay on brand

No surprises here. Go big or go home. Consider an angle or audience your larger competitors can’t or won’t pursue, and dive in. You will likely need to leave your comfort zone, but that’s fine.

That said, the rush to grab top-tier headlines often results in brands reaching too far. Ideas should make you — and your executives — uncomfortable, but there should be a clear connection to your brand voice and purpose. Developing an overarching theme for big ideas and resulting earned media coverage can keep you honest, while ensuring the narrative can thrive beyond a single activation.

Think like a startup

Startups focus on earned media and word of mouth to generate disproportionate impact and wedge themselves into the conversation alongside established brands. Why let them have all the fun?

When brainstorming and building ideas and pitches, think like a startup to spur creativity and take on the big guys. This attitude is contagious. It can quickly become second nature even outside of marketing, from workplace culture to operations.

Don’t go it alone

When coverage starts rolling, you want your owned channels to be armed with content to support the campaign, as well as messaging for consumer responses – the positive and negative. The key is to bring your social partners in as early as possible. A high-level media hit can wreak havoc on their conversation calendar. There are enough surprises in PR and social media, so avoid the ones you can.

We should embrace the opportunity to challenge the biggest players in our respective industries. It brings out the best in us as communicators. And, quite frankly, it makes our jobs a lot more interesting.

Ross Perot put it best when he said, “Life is never more fun than when you’re an underdog competing against the giants.”

Luke DeRouen is senior director, brand partnerships and PR at Arby’s.


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