Ideas do not care who their parents are

The earned media playbook is open source and no longer confined to PR professionals - so the industry must overcome its systemic weaknesses if it is to exploit this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Nike added $6bn in share value via its Just Do It campaign. (Image: @Kaepernick7 on Twitter.)
Nike added $6bn in share value via its Just Do It campaign. (Image: @Kaepernick7 on Twitter.)

Much has been said about media and creative agencies working better together.

But that stool needs a third leg - and it’s us. What we do in PR is the magic ingredient marketing needs more than ever.

When David Ogilvy founded our company, advertising was the dominant marketing capability. Through it, Ogilvy built brands that remain household names today.

Seventy years on, we live in a more complex, fragmented world where technology fills near infinite media with sometimes ubiquitous content, marketing no longer relies solely on advertising, and it has become more difficult for brands to cut through the noise.

Clients need simple, creative, and elegant integrated solutions. And agencies need to make it easier for clients to buy them. PR has a new role - and it is the missing ingredient.

This year, I was invited to be president of the 10th PR jury at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

As we sifted through over 2,100 entries, fewer than 250 of which were from PR agencies, we found the answer. And it’s been hiding in plain sight for longer than the 20 years PRWeek U.S. has been in existence (happy birthday by the way!)

Put bluntly and over simply, no idea created for a brand should see the light of day if it does not have the potential to earn significant attention, media, and influence.

Famously successful ideas include Real Beauty by Dove or Open Happiness by Coca-Cola. The same is true of ideas that surf a news cycle or a cultural moment. Great examples of this won at Cannes this year, including Net Neutrality by Burger King, The Flip by McDonald’s, or This Coke is a Fanta from Coke.

Ideas can be supported purely by paid. But why put $100m into media when well-designed earned-first ideas create millions of dollars of additional value through earned media, talkability, and third-party endorsement?

Nike reportedly spends about $1.5 billion on media in the U.S. The Colin Kaepernick Just Do It work earned media worth over $160 million, according to Apex Marketing, in a very short space of time. That’s approximately 10% of its U.S. media and promotional spend.

At the time, data showed consumer sentiment at around 65% neutral or positive. Ogilvy’s worldwide chief strategy officer, Ben Richards, has no doubt about the value of earned-first thinking.

"Earned isn’t measured in media value - it’s measured in stock value," he notes. "Nike’s Kaepernick work caused some customers to burn their shoes, but sales quickly spiked, discounting dropped, and Nike added $6 billion in share value."

That’s just one of the many reasons CMOs and their C-suite colleagues are more interested than ever in powerful ideas that earn attention, media, and influence. It truly is our time to step forward as public relations professionals and claim not just a seat at the table but also an influential voice in the creative process.

But, to do this, we must be clear about the relationship we want with marketing and the people who build brands.

Over 65% of PR people surveyed by USC Annenberg last year feel PR will get closer to marketing. But the sample was divided on how that will manifest itself.

I am both an optimist and a realist. I believe in the power of PR, but ideas do not care who their parents are. Some of the best ideas that earn the most exposure do not even come from PR agencies.

We have to adjust to a world where the PR playbook is open source and address our industry’s systemic weaknesses if we are to grasp the bigger purpose.

Using the magic ingredient of earned first thinking can help bridge the gap between the worlds of media and creative agencies. If we seek this ambitious role and fulfil it successfully, we will have the thanks of many CMOs and their communications colleagues.

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