Brendon O’Donovan
Brendon O’Donovan

For anyone with a career in communications and PR, the fabled “seat at the table” has been prophesized by speakers, vendors and thought leaders for decades now. However, these past few years have pushed communicators, particularly PR professionals, back into the spotlight.

This isn’t because of some new social media network or fad, but from actual societal change. Consumers today are weary; they’ve been overly targeted, bombarded with poorly targeted messages and duped by bad actors. Where marketers used to pour endless dollars into advertising and personalization, the trends are shifting to integrated storytelling and brand campaigns.

Luis Di Como, Head of Global Media for Unilever, said it best in a recent AdExchanger article, “We have an issue in the [advertising] industry around lack of trust and lack of transparency,” Di Como said. As a response, he said, “We are moving away from an interruptive model to one that encompasses brand integration and branded content around consumer passion points.”

That, at the highest level, is the integration of paid, earned, shared and owned media.

So, how does this integration work? It starts with understanding how audiences are consuming media. After collecting that intelligence, teams should create unified content that can be applied to earned and owned media. Once those narratives and strategies are finally in place, marketers and communicators can use paid advertising to promote and target audiences that’s contextually relevant to them and their interests.

The first part of the puzzle involves getting a deeper understanding of how media coverage is being consumed and measuring its success. It’s no secret that PR has traditionally been about reporting potential reach, whether that’s potential impressions, circulation or ad-equivalency.

The problem with that is those metrics don’t tell you how many people were actually exposed to your earned media, and just tells you estimations about a publication’s readership. We know however that not every visitor of that outlet will read the article you worked so hard to get placed. Until recently, this was the best way to measure success. Now, we’ve developed modern communications measurement programs that tap into ad-networks to better understand the real validated readership of your placements.

How does this technology work? Nearly every publication uses ads for survival. By tapping into this network, communicators can get a real look at the unique visitors, views and demographic profiles of earned media content. It gets even more extensive though. Using the ad-network attribution methods, this technology can also prove the downstream effects of your media coverage.

We have the ability to see how exposed audiences convert to site traffic in the most granular ways, from the number of home page views to actual purchases. This, finally, can be incorporated into internal attribution models and put a real value on earned media and its contribution to your organization’s strategic goals.

The second puzzle piece is identifying and then activating contextual audiences with integrated campaigns. Contextual targeting—or advertising to users based on the context of the site—is the original integration of paid and earned. Since contextual targeting is all about what content is being consumed and not personal data, it’s more privacy friendly and less intrusive. Using the same ad-network based technology, communicators can identify and create target audiences based on their earned media consumption. The magic is in the precision and its all-around media placements, monitoring and reporting: the core competencies of communicators.

An example might be a resort in Austin, TX that can now identify and target people who are reading articles about traveling or events in Austin. This contextual audience is much more relevant and targeted compared to the old method in which businesses might simply target single, 18-to-35-year-olds with disposable income. Additionally, this contextual audience data won’t be reliant on personal information.

The final piece of the puzzle is using these audiences and your understanding of them as the basis of your campaigns. The best part about contextual audiences is that marketers and communicators no longer have to guess the interest of that audience, or use overly broad interest categories to base their targeting.

Because you understand the content that these audiences have interacted with, you can deliver highly relevant and timely content and messaging. Cision clients using this method of targeting earned media audiences have already seen between five and 20 times an increase in the effectiveness of their ad spend. Pretty compelling, right?

You see, that seat at that table is now begging for you to sit down. Communicators have always been about delivering the right message, to the right people, at the right time. The missing link was measuring and activating those exposed audiences. By combining the superpowers of brand equity, trusted earned media and technology, communicators now have a powerful asset that answers the call of a changing, increasingly privacy-concerned world.

Earned media is no longer the supplement to the larger campaign; it’s the centerpiece and the future of a better relationship between you, your customers and society.


Brendon O’Donovan is the Head of Global Product Marketing at Cision. He was previously the Director of Product, Brand and Content Marketing at TrendKite before the company was acquired by Cision in 2019.