In the old days most PRs lived by the saying “good advertising is what you pay for, while good PR is what you pray for”. Rightly or wrongly, we believed target audiences paid more attention to the ‘free’ company mentions that PR generates within editorial sections of the media than the paid adverts in the same titles.
While some publications have always offered paid editorial packages, in general, if you had to pay for it, it was considered less valuable and a bit underhand, especially in the world of B2B PR where I have mostly worked.
Now the lines are blurring. There are more occasions when PRs should consider ‘pay to play’ options to get content in front of the audiences they’re targeting. Here are three considerations that back up my thinking on why this is true for B2B PR.
1 The rise of sponsored articles in B2B publications
B2B PRs have long relied on placing guest articles and blogs within target media. They are effective for helping companies showcase their expertise, deliver insights, debate controversial industry issues and generally get noticed. Mostly we never had to buy the space to publish these articles, with editors willing to use our content if it was interesting and unbiased. But now I’m seeing more B2B publications reinventing guest articles as “sponsored posts” that you have to pay for.
With so much of their content now consumed on mobile devices, it maybe that publications are seeking to recoup some of the revenue they expect to lose to mobile ad-blocking. Or it may be that with the rise of ‘content marketing’, editors are so inundated with offers of guest articles, that media owners see sponsored posts (which also fall under the umbrella of native advertising) as a nice new earner. Either way, B2B PR agencies and their clients need to get used to the fact that they may have to start paying to place articles on some sites.
2 Paying to make your social media shares go further
Creating articles, news stories, white papers and reports is the mainstay of B2B PR, and naturally sharing this content on social channels has also tended to fall under our remit. But people’s LinkedIn newsfeeds and Twitter timelines are growing so busy that a lot of stuff we share can easily get missed by the people we want to see it. And on both LinkedIn and Twitter, the content we post can only be viewed by those connections within a company or member’s own network (it can only spread further if an existing connection likes, comments or shares it with their network).
So to up the chances of content being seen and to reach important targets outside of the existing network, you have to now consider using paid social options such as promoted Tweets or sponsored LinkedIn updates. With LinkedIn in particular, there are fantastic B2B targeting opportunities allowing you to filter your audience by industry sector, region, job title, size of company, skills etc .
3 Using timely paid search ads
90% of B2B researchers who are online use search engines to research business purchases, so search is a fantastic channel for business marketers. But while PRs have started to incorporate aspects of SEO, (such as writing SEO-friendly copy and link building) into their services, we generally steer clear of paid search or pay per click (PPC) search advertising. I believe, however, we should be more open to the idea of using search ads to help timely content get seen by target audiences.
Let’s say you’ve just launched a piece of B2B content (such as a report or white paper) that you need to get in front of target audiences right now. PPC might represent your fastest way of making it visible in searches. Trying to achieve a high ranking via organic SEO can take time, and it’s generally not effective unless you’re able to get your content to rank in the first two pages of search results (beyond which few searchers will explore).
Added to this, the way in which Google changed the format of its search engine results pages (SERPS) recently, gives paid results a big advantage I believe. This change means Google no longer shows search ads on the right hand side of its SERPs, putting more search ads in prominent positions at the top of the page. These highly placed ads generate more clicks and traffic, with searchers often having to scroll down through four paid links before seeing any organic results.
In theory it makes sense for PR agencies to work with clients to consider these paid options for promoting PR content. The difficulty is that the funds to support paid PR initiatives are likely to be part of the advertising budget. So PR agencies are left to fight it out with ad agencies for parts of the ad budget.