The legitimacy of owned media—and how PR execs should react

by | Aug 11, 2022 | Analysis, Public Relations

Elon Musk’s recent move to buy Twitter for $44 billion has been one of the biggest stories of the year. Despite the seemingly unending drama, the proposed deal has huge implications for the social media world.

On its own, the foundering Twitter transaction may not seem all that pertinent to PR professionals. But if you think about it for a second, this attempted purchase represents another instance of wealthy individuals or large companies attempting to own their media presence. Similar cases include Jeff Bezos’ 2013 acquisition of The Washington Post, and Disney’s massive controlling stake in major TV networks and channels, including ABC, ESPN, A&E Networks, and more.

While not many PR professionals are likely to be dealing with billionaire clients who buy newspapers or social media platforms, there are plenty of clients out there who only want to work through owned media. Owned media has always been difficult for PR professionals to manage, especially when it comes to questions of legitimacy and transparency. How can I make my client’s owned media work for them while also making it seem unbiased and fair?

Types of media

Let’s remind ourselves of the different media types and how they differ from one another. Many marketing pros will be familiar with the PESO model of media types (Paid, Earned, Shared, and Owned), which is a planning tool for media campaigns by digital marketers and PR professionals.

To start, paid media is any marketing content that a company has paid for, such as advertorial content, sponsored content, and other promoted media. Earned media is any favorable coverage in a media outlet that a company hasn’t paid for, such as media mentions, bylined articles, and thought leadership placements. Shared media is anything organic in nature, such as reviews, online comments, and references in other online communities.

Lastly, you have owned media, which is any online content that a company fully owns and controls. Examples of owned media include company blogs, self-hosted videos, webinars, and email marketing campaigns. The great thing about owned media, and what makes it so popular, is the complete control you have over it. Unlike shared or earned, owned media can be used to communicate the exact message you want to your audience. It also raises your brand awareness by increasing your search visibility and allowing you to reach new audiences.

A problem arises when clients only want to use owned media, which means they miss out on the full benefits that can come from a more diversified PR campaign. Each media type has its own pros and cons, and a good PR professional will know that an effective media campaign normally requires a healthy balance of the various types.

How to ‘own’ your owned media

From the reader’s perspective, it’s very difficult to trust information that comes from a brand-owned source, particularly when the language makes it clear that the aim is to sell you something. Fortunately, even when a client does insist on using owned media and nothing else, there are ways to ensure it carries more weight for the reader and earns their trust. It’s all about how you present the information.

Below are three steps you can take to make your client’s owned media more authentic and trustworthy in the eyes of readers.

1. Make it informative and useful

When communicating with your client’s audience, it’s important to make the content both informative and useful. Generally speaking, people who regularly visit a brand-owned blog or sign up for a company’s newsletter aren’t immediately looking to purchase the company’s service or order its products. If they are interested in making a purchase, they will just visit the “order” or “contact us” page.

Blog posts and newsletters fulfill a different need by providing information that can help the client make future decisions about a problem they’re facing. Sometimes that results in leads, of course, but that can’t be the focus of the content, at least not if you’re trying to build trust. The more informative and useful the content is, the more likely it is that the reader will return for future posts, share the ones they like on social media, and, eventually, consider using the brand’s services or products.

2. Keep it unbiased and transparent

What is it that sets a media outlet like the New York Times apart from a brand-owned blog? The answer is the commitment of the Times towards the core tenets of journalism: transparency and objective reporting. Granted, every source has its biases, but for the most part, journalistic juggernauts like the Times try as best they can to remain impartial and fair in their reporting. The same should be true of your client’s owned media.

That’s not to say you can’t be a bit promotional with owned media. The trick is to make it subtle. People can recognize when they’re being marketed to, and they may be put off when it’s too in their face. People don’t mind marketing when they’re in buying mode, but when they’re just looking for info, a hard sales angle can be off-putting.

With owned media content, try to bring up opposing viewpoints and present them in a way that seems fair while also arguing why your client’s products/services are the better choice. It’s not always easy to accomplish this balance, but it builds greater trust with your target audience.

3. Manage client expectations

If you’ve closely followed the above two points, then you should by now have a media piece that is both informative and trustworthy enough to appeal to the target audience. However, there’s another factor you need to consider in the owned media equation: the client. They may not be entirely happy with this approach you’ve taken. They might not understand why they can’t use these pieces to openly promote their products and services. Expect to receive some pushback the first few times you send in some content for their owned media.

Be ready to convince them—in a reasonable way—why the soft sell is much more effective, even with owned media. You should also be willing to accommodate the client’s wishes as best you can. An unhappy client won’t remain a client for long, so be prepared to give some ground if necessary. No doubt, it’s a difficult balancing act to keep your client happy while also keeping their content fair and transparent. But over time, the results should speak for themselves.

Final thoughts

Compared to other media types, owned media allows for more freedom for clients to get their message out as they see it. However, there is a right and wrong way to approach it. As PR professionals, we need to recognize what that right approach is and gently persuade our clients to take that approach.

As more businesses look to expand their marketing reach through owned media, there will be an increased need for PR professionals to have these potentially difficult conversations among both themselves and their clients.

Stephen Marcinuk
As the Co-founder and Head of Operations at Intelligent Relations, Steve is actively involved in all aspects of operations and growth for the company - this ranges from the generation of the AI PR technology for the platform, all the way across to client services.