Aug 20, 2013

Sponsored Content Poses Opportunities for PR

Steve Rubel, chief content strategist at Edelman, and our guest this week on webinar titled “The Future of Sponsored Content for Communications Professionals.”

As brands spool up their publishing engines, many are seeking outlets for their messaging.  At the same time, traditional media outlets are continuing to re-engineer their business models, and are seeking new revenue opportunities.   The confluence of the two – brand content and availability of space on publisher platforms – is behind the increasing amount of sponsored content we’re seeing on media properties today.

Today’s forms of sponsored content often appear commingled with or in close proximity to editorial content.  Herein is an opportunity for PR professionals to add a new dimension to their long relationship with the news media. Centered in advertising, communicators can now combine paid and owned programming across a spectrum of publishers, and can earn some media while they’re at it.  With the exception of the last phrase, this doesn’t sound too much like traditional PR.  In advance of our webinar about the evolution of sponsored content and what it means for PR scheduled for Thursday of this week, I spoke with Steve Rubel, chief content strategist for Edelman and LinkedIn Influencer.

Source: Edelman

“The core work in PR remains earned media,” Rubel noted straight off the bat.  “That remains the primary purpose – to use earned media to develop a stronger relationship with stakeholders and consumers.”

However, he also noted that it’s increasingly difficult to ensure a story – even a great one – reaches its intended audience.  Against an overwhelming supply of content, demand remains finite.  The competition for attention is continually growing.

Enter sponsored content.

Sponsored enables you to amplify your content,” says Rubel. “It creates a launching pad for awareness and consideration – and this is helpful for changing minds and behaviors.  But it is not a replacement for earned media.  It is a way to amplify that which is either earned or owned.” [Tweet this!]

The earned – sponsored opportunity for PR

Sponsored content can generate newsworthy information that can ultimately spawn earned media elsewhere, Rubel noted, providing as an example the Economists’s intelligence Unit, which supplies a variety of forecasting, advisory and research services.  The Economist will never cover reports the EIU produces for a third party within their own editorial, but other outlets may do so.

“The campaign itself can generate paid or earned coverage that is the start of a conversation,” says Rubel. “There is that connection between that which is sponsored and that which is earned, and that is where the sweet spot happens. It gets you into orbit. The two are connected but not within the same locale.”

Governing ethics – a necessary framework

Edelman has created an ethical framework to guide and govern their firm’s work in sponsored content, and this excerpt nicely frames the role of PR in developing a sponsored content strategy:

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.

There is an important caveat, however.  Transparency is crucial, and both brands and publishers need to clearly delineate between sponsored and editorial content.  Relevance, not deception, should drive consumption of sponsored content.  Rubel noted that Edelman evaluates each publisher’s approach to displaying sponsored content, and requires clear disclosure.

“Come at this with the reader in mind first,” he suggests.  “What is right for them?  What level of disclosure do they want? Does the media partner execute to satisfaction?”

Additionally, the processes around media buys and publicity need to be kept strictly separate.

“We advocated in the paper that the processes for negotiating sponsored buys and editorial pitching need to be done by separate people,” commented Rubel. “Ideation can be shared, but the process needs to be separate.”

We’ll be digging further into this topic on Thursday with Steve Rubel, in a webinar hosted by the Business Development Institute titled “The Future of Sponsored Content for Communications Professionals.” Attendance is free.

Webinar details:

Thursday, August 22

2:00 ET


Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and

is the author of the e-books “Unlocking Social Media for PR and the soon-to-be-published “New School PR Tactics.”  Follow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik

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