Two weeks ago, we reported on a new PR app that aims to streamline work processes
in the industry for both PR pros and brands. Overall, it’s a great product if it means both PR pros and brands—especially those who aren’t able to afford full-fledged agency services—can feel like the process is more democratised.
However, one aspect of the app remains curious to us:
“A feature that could redefine earned media altogether is the app’s ‘guarantee coverage’ offering. This is how it works: Any media publisher or news platform that wants to be a part of Supernewsroom’s ‘guaranteed coverage’ offering will have to submit a domain authority score to gauge the site’s unique visitors and other metrics. Once a rate is decided, the publisher can choose to publish any releases that come through and will be paid according to the pre-determined rate. The agency or company pays Supernewsroom for the release blast, and Supernewsroom then pays the publisher a cut should they decide to cover the news based on the release.”
Founder of the app Manminder Kaur Dhillon told us that it’s a ‘win-win solution’ for agencies/brands and publishers as all parties stand to benefit from such an arrangement. “Traditionally, when a press release is covered, the media companies don't make money and only the agency makes money. So what we’re doing now is that if a media company chooses to publish, we will actually give them a fee to publish it, but they have complete editorial control,” said Dhillon.
But incentivising an organisation or journalist to publish a story based on a press release surfaces murky ethics and questions the very definition of earned media in the first place.
“We have seen an acceleration of the line blurring between earned and paid media, since quarter two of last year, when advertising and other sources of commercial revenue plummeted for publishers,” Duncan Craig, communications director at DC Comms, told PRWeek Asia.
“The market accepts this development as long as the content is clearly labelled as sponsored content or partner content. Other phrases used by publishers include Open Mic and Market Voices, which is fine. Companies should support media sites as it would be a disaster if we saw independent media collapse.”
Craig added that it’s getting harder to secure earned media coverage largely due to smaller editorial teams. “In a way this can be a positive development, as the better content operators stand out and strive to deliver more interesting stories to the media. It’s hard work being a journalist, and it should be hard work for communications professionals,” he said.
Sarada Chellam, general manager at Sandpiper Communications, told PRWeek Asia that PR pros should never guarantee earned media coverage.
“A breaking news story could easily push something out of the editorial line-up so there are no guarantees unless you’re paying for that space. Essentially, if you’re paying for a story to be covered, it’s paid media and not earned no matter how you package it,” she said. “As an agency working with journalists regularly, we have a good idea of the type of stories they’ll cover and the ones they won’t. But we still can’t guarantee earned media coverage.”
On top of that, publications accepting payment for covering press releases are likely not top-tier or prestige publications. Craig said that while there may be plenty of smaller web publishers in Asia that might want to be incentivised and paid for publishing press releases, most companies would prefer their stories to be placed in premium and large-scale readership publications.
“In the end, clients are not really winning because they are paying for a service that does not provide the media cut-through that they want. Clients may get volume hits via an app-based approach, but many of the top-tier press don’t have time to play in this arena,” he said.
“I support innovation in the communications process and making it easy for time-pressed journalists to get access to good stories but I am not sure if an app-based incentivised payment scheme is the right way forward. On the client side, you also have to question whether top news publishers—whether they are mainstream current affairs sites or industry/trade press—would opt-in to an app-based news system.”
And of course, publishers that don’t vet their content appropriately run the risk of losing credibility. Craig said: “Trust in media has been eroded by sensationalist media reporting, the dissemination of fake news and misinformation on social platforms. In relation to this issue, publishers that run a ton of sponsored or paid stories on their site eventually lose their audience.”
Ultimately, automation and app-based processes will not replace the direct relationship between journalists and comms professionals, according to Craig. “Automation has its benefits, but it has a limit. Also, earned media is not guaranteed media. You have to earn the right to secure press coverage, not pay for it. They are separate content plays,” he said.
However, both Craig and Chellam acknowledge the challenges in this climate for PR pros to secure earned coverage. This could be due to many factors including archaic methods of measurement or prioritising quantity over quality.
“The challenge for agencies is to get clients to look beyond just column inches,” said Chellam. “Is media coverage the best way to achieve the client’s business objectives or should we be looking at other communication channels? If our client’s target audiences aren’t consuming traditional media, then that doesn’t necessarily translate to increased awareness.”
Chellam argued that with the proliferation of influencers and social media, PR pros are no longer competing with other PR consultancies but also advertising, social media and influencer marketing agencies.
(This article first appeared on PRWeek.com)