Saturday 10 December 2016

Sponsored Content: An Ethical Framework

by Richard Edelman
We have just published a special report on the opportunity for public relations firms in sponsored content (you can download the report here).

Steve Rubel, our chief content strategist, visited with 30 U.S. media companies to research this paper. Our assessment is that the public relations firms will make a different contribution to the paid space than the media buyers. The PR firms will use paid to accelerate or amplify earned or owned content, while the media buyer will have the paid content that is recommended and executed by the media company stand on its own. The PR industry will have journalistic sensibility on what makes a good story and how it fits into the earned stream, then to decide whether it merits further promotion. PR professionals have deep roots in social conversations, understanding the needs of communities. PR folks appreciate the need for unique angles for each publication, with speed and agility to fit into bigger stories. We must also have a different set of ethical standards than the media buyer or ad agency, because our profession relies primarily on its trusted relationship with earned media. Those principles fall into three broad categories: Disclosure, Quality and Process.

On Disclosure, we will delineate editorial-style sponsored content clearly from that which is earned by a successful pitch to a journalist or owned by a company as its contribution to the conversation. Forbes.com does this through its BrandVoice demarcation. We also want to facilitate conversation between client and community on every piece of content, whether earned, owned or sponsored.

On Quality, it is our goal to move beyond the former modality of “publish once and done” toward a constant updating of content based on new information. We also have added paid amplification to the center of our Edelman Media Cloverleaf model, with search and visual content, to accelerate transmedia storytelling among the traditional, hybrid, owned and social leaves.

On Process, we will separate our day-to-day earned media work from paid content deals. We are in the process of hiring media buyers who will manage the negotiations with the business side of the media. This is a true church-state division of responsibility. We will not have any quid pro quo discussions and will not tolerate pay-for-play in any market.

I had breakfast with Lew DVorkin, editor of Forbes, last week to discuss this framework. He had the idea for BrandVoice, material contributed by the advertiser that supplements editorial product but is clearly marked as paid content. He wrote a blog post yesterday on “The New Math of Journalism” in which he predicts the end of the article page, contributor-activated commenting and conversation systems and the business case for continuous rolling screens. But most important of his 17 predictions is the next battle zone – ad agencies that have marketing as their mantra versus PR firms, which are focused on communications. We need to establish a separate budget from the central media buying pot, in much the same way as research for PR purposes is separated from overall brand research. We can play this sport in this stadium. Just watch the Pittsburgh Pirates to see what can happen; the low budget team that is scrappy, creative and determined to win.

This blog post was originally posted on edelman.com