10 PR hacks on Paid Content

The latest findings from the CIPR’s State of the Profession 2015 survey provide a powerful reminder for public relations practitioners as to why the topic of paid media needs to be addressed urgently.

The majority of respondents to the CIPR survey (76%) revealed that they spend some or most of their time working on media relations. In addition, digital knowledge and skills are the weakest competencies among survey respondents – particularly among in-house and senior practitioners.

The reality is, advertising, SEO and social media marketing agencies are combining their ‘paid for’ strengths in with the ‘earned’ capabilities traditionally considered the unique domain of the PR sector.

So, the CIPR Social Media Panel organised a ‘hack day’ on paid media. Hack days aim to generate and capture collaborative debate and produce content in real-time for the benefit of CIPR members and the wider PR and digital community.

What follows is the outcome of this inaugural hack day from @dantyte @gemgriff @andismit @Ad_Parker @EEPaul @LBartoszek @joannahalton @simoncollister @russgoldsmith @AJMRoss.

1. What do we mean by Paid Media?

Put simply, we mean using cash to gain more visibility for your PR content.  Paying for social can amplify the content you’ve worked so hard to create with the audience you want to reach.  It can cover a broad spectrum- from promoted posts to influencer outreach.

2. Why is it important?

As PRs we’re historically used to earning media. Social media like Facebook and Twitter stack their algorithms against organic content.  As a brand, organic posts are likely to be seen by just three per cent of your audience- a real waste when you consider the effort that goes into content creation. It’s clear paid is needed alongside the earned, owned and shared to build a relationship.  Cue a handy Venn diagram from Gini Dietrich, author of Spin Sucks:

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3.  Pay and Play.  Start Small and Scale.

Use the tools built into the social platforms to reduce your uncertainty about whether they’re right, or not, to help you meet your objectives.  Why not pay and play?  With a very small budget, you can run trial paid campaigns which can help you work out if they’re right for your campaign.  Start small and scale.

4. Get Closer to your Community through Social

Facebook’s Custom Audiences feature allows you to target different stakeholders with your Facebook Ads by easily identifying the groups of customers you already have a relationship with both on and off the site.

Through uploading a list of email addresses or phone numbers you can reach employees, key influencers or investors with highly targeted messaging. You must have gained permission to target these audiences through them opting-in and accepting your privacy policy.

5. Shortcut to (potential) Success?

Twitter allows you to target promoted tweets in a variety of ways based on demographics and interests. You can also target the followers of specific Twitter users. In a young challenger brand situation, where your organic reach may still be small, it’s a chance to reach potentially relevant people quickly. You could consider targeting the followers of key influencers in your industry, or even your competitors.

6. A Tweet by Any Other Name

A promoted tweet can appear on home feeds, hashtags etc – but it’s still a tweet and has all the associated content and sharing features. For instance people can reply and retweet you. This creates a great opportunity for engagement, so it’s important that you monitor for responses. Promoted tweets can also have a longer life span than organic tweets. You can pay for persistence to reach more of your target audience.

We ran a small promoted tweet experiment during the tweetchat we ran on the hackday so we could share screenshots here.  You’ll see how got insights on impressions (reach), engagement, cost, device usage, physical location and gender. Facebook and LinkedIn offer similar capabilities.  So for £7.62, there were 960 impressions and 12 engagements.  Worth it?

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7. Today’s Tweets ≠ Tomorrow’s Chip Paper

Your hard work has paid off with all those great pieces of editorial. Unfortunately there’s no guarantee that the people you’re trying to reach most will see them. Think about using social promotion as a way of putting this content in front of more of these people.

8. Pay to Reach The Professionals

Linkedin advertising enables you to sponsor content- either existing or new- so that it reaches a wider audience – but a company page is needed first to sponsor updates. Whereas ads show up on the sides or at the tops of Linkedin pages, sponsored content appears right in the user’s news stream, which will typically lead to more engagement.

With ‘Direct Sponsored Content’ you can share content to LinkedIn homepage newsfeeds without first publishing the content on a company or showcase page (extensions of company pages showcasing specific product, service or initiatives – think campaigns! – of the organisation). When Linkedin users see this content in their newsfeed, it looks the same as a sponsored update from a company, but it isn’t visible on the company or showcase pages and won’t be sent to company followers.

9. The Advertorial+

It’s always been part of our jobs to create advertorial content with media partners who can help us reach audiences.  PRs of a certain vintage will remember the colour separation charge billed by trade media to cover industry ‘news’.  Many traditional media outlets now have huge social media communities ready to engage with their content.  And huge opportunities exist for media partnerships which give the PRs the platform to create creative content which can be packaged in the style of the publication (sometimes called ‘native advertising’) and shared with their massive social audiences.  See, his HBO-sponsored Buzzfeed quiz asking ‘How Would You Die in Game of Thrones?’:

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or this ‘Who Lives In a Christmas Movie Home Like This?’ from Principality Building Society with Trinity Mirror, shared on Wales Online and supported through their social:

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10. Blog on

As traditionally informal media such as bloggers, vloggers, Instagrammers and Snapchatters become increasingly professional it is important to be aware that media partnerships and sponsored content opportunities are becoming increasingly common.  Whether you’re working with a YouTube star like Zoella or a local or trade blogger, where payment is made in exchange for content it is essential that the relevant industry guidelines are followed and you adhere to all relevant regulations and laws. Key documents include:

But there may also be more industry specific guidelines for certain sectors, e.g. pharmaceutical or financial services.

Don’t be tempted to guess what’s acceptable when it comes to paid. Prosecutions have been made. An example of the most recent sanctions being applied to leading vloggers is the ASA’s ruling against Mondelez UK Ltd.

Following this ruling the ASA’s guidance on wokring with vloggers was reinforced: ”when [a] commercial relationship is in place … the onus is on the advertiser, and by extension the vlogger, to be upfront about it and clearly disclose the fact that they’re advertising.” It continues: “Ultimately, it pays to be honest,” highlighting the value of authenticity, and emphasising “if advertisers and vloggers aren’t upfront, not only could they be in breach of the Advertising Code, they could also be breaking the law.” Don’t. Just don’t.

These ten tips were created in an afternoon (Weds 25th Feb 2015) by the CIPR Social Media Panel for an audience at all stages of their PR and social journey.  If you’ve got an idea for the next CIPRSM Hackday, let us know @ciprsm.

Founded in April 2010, the CIPR Social Media Panel (#CIPRSM) has played a significant role in the development of CIPR policy guidance, education, and training on the topic of digital and social media in public relations. #CIPRSM is made up of some of the foremost social media thought-leaders and contributors.

  1. What a great start for the Hack Day process.
    Just one point to add about the issue of crossing the divide between earned and paid-for media. Most of us in PR, particularly on B2B accounts, have merrily been crossing the divide – albeit with the wonderful euphemism of ‘colour seperation’ charges.
    I remember when these were originally a valid, honest charge made by trade publications to enhance already decided upon editorial. The recesssion of the 1990-2, where trade publications faced a substantial reduction in their advertising income, they then saw the potential of clawing back income from ‘colour seperation’ charges.
    So, don’t feel too far out of your comfort zone engaging with paid for opportunities.

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