Driven by the impact of digital, and questions about the efficacy and costs of traditional advertising, a new concept of bought, owned and earned media is now entering the fray. The pitch being made is that social networks are a new space where the client has to earn the right to be present. This then feeds into communications strategy and, inevitably, the buying decisions.
But is this new and what does "owned and earned media" mean? The channels may be changing but it's about engagement and conversations.
PR has always been about earning our space. This may be in media channels that are as diverse as consumers, or moving from opinion formers to opinion shapers. From mums to Ministers, and teenagers to the third age, third party or peer endorsement has always been a valuable commodity to influence and persuade so as to change attitudes and behaviours. To do that we've had to develop strategies, narratives, content, tone of voice and language. The challenge is moving from influencing the few (editorial) to influence the many (readers and viewers) where the dialogue is immediately many on many but the skills of influencing are at the heart of it.
In helping organisations with their reputation, we've also been obsessed, and sometimes frustrated, in seeking an alignment of what organisations do (bought), what they say (owned) and what others say about them (earnt). That can mean challenging the policy to prevent adverse responses and that's rather more productive than chasing down a story that has gone hopelessly wrong whether on or offline.
The CIPR definition of PR is worth recalling as the discipline that has "the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour."
Smart marketers and communicators have always looked at the mix in relation to the objective. Television is still the only medium that can provoke and sustain a national conversation, so it's a mistake to get into false, polarised choices that are not supported by the evidence.
But the advertising industry is right in recognising that a completely different skill set is required to come to terms with social networking. Let's welcome them to public relations and raise our game to make sure we are at the heart of strategy and planning.
Neil Martinson is director of news and PR at the COI