Edelman Study: Does It Pave the Way to Total PR Solution?

Released today, and Edelman report dealing with ethical aspects of so-called sponsored content attempts to mitigate proper disclosure intersecting quality and even the future of online news journalism. Prepared by noted professional blogger and Chief Content Strategist for Edelman, Steve Rubel, the report goes a long way toward beginning a discussion on what’s  “next” for news, if not concrete solutions to the media’s revenue problems to come.

Richard Edelman

Richard Edelman breakfast at World Economic Forum 2011 – courtesy Robert Scoble

Looking at Steve’s report yesterday eve and this morning, it details how Edelman (for one) will ensure paid content on media outlets such as The Washington Post and Forbes is both ethical and value oriented, etc. Significantly, Edelman proposes to foster meaningful discussion over said content as a means of refining same, this in the form of a (I must admit) the rather nebulous PR speak of “clients meaningfully participating for deeper relationships”, and etc. However clumsily we approach the division of paid and earned visibility, the meat of coming strategy development has its beginnings in the genuine dialogue Rubel and Edelman seems ready to engage in. Short version, Edelman is listening.

The Credibility and Truth Behind “Dunno”

Without beating about the bush, Steve Rubel’s report offers up those questions most likely to arise for journalists, advertisers, marketers and others who pay for visibility. What’s more significant though is the undercurrent within the industry so apparent from Steve’s report. Most notably, Rubel sugar coats a bit the biggest quandary for mainline news media – “Just what is going to replace their ailing ad monetization?” Steve tenderly suggests publishers are “open to” new streams of revenue, when in fact even the New York Times may be on the proverbial “ropes” where print and digital ad revenue is concerned.

Not meaning to begin my own dissertation on digital revenue models, the Edelman report is spot on sighting “eroding classical revenue streams”. But, while recognizing the problem for media outlets is half the battle, half a battle seldom wins any outcome. The other half of the battle will end up being what Edelman nor any major communicative agency has fully synthesized – a galvanized holistic approach fully integrated across ever conceivable channel.

While Edelman and others maintain “outposts” within each communicative conduit, no one to my knowledge has gone outside using silos. Speaking with Steve a few moments ago, some points are clearer than others, especially where the disruptive forces acting on all concerned come into focus. If nothing else were true here, Rubel and Edelman are still at the forefront of discussion. Rubel compared this latest disruption to the emergence of social media itself back about 2005, to wit we do not know all the answers now, just as we did not back then.

Global Strategy and Insights

Edelman’s Chief Content Strategist, Steve Rubel

To bolster the notion “nobody knows” here, Forbes, one of Edelman’s suggested “paid-content” outlets, had a story by another expert (Robert Hof) last month entitled “Will Mobile Revolutionize Advertising–Or Kill It?” Herein one of the best minds in the communications industry seems baffled as to just what is going to rule the roost where paying the media piper is concerned. Sorry for the metaphor, but everyone seems to be acting like the proverbial chicken with their head cut off here.

Almost everyone, that is. Taking Hof as an example of brilliant “focused” expertise, the Forbes contributor probably knows as much about mobile advertising as anyone. Then too, who knows more about content of a type than Steve Rubel (above via Eric Schwartzman)? And now we come to the real crux of Edelman’s, For either the New York Times as a publisher, or companies as pronounced as  Coca Cola is in advertising, the real answers come in the form of a “totality” approach. Please read on.

Last week our PR firm worked in unison with acclaimed author and friend Brian Solis, and at least a dozen other digital agencies aiming at addressing the crux of these emerging monetization models. Approaching forward thinking media and business, and key thinkers in various fields, down where the digital meat meets the metal, this more holistic approach for modern business communication is actually in the offing. To quote from Solis’ latest book, What’s the Future of Business “Experiences are the new customer relationship”.

And while Rubel’s report alludes to the whole concept of what Solis would call “designing an experience”, the numerate questionings identify even the world’s most powerful communications firm is still just studying. Mind you, this is not a negative thing, we are all searching for tomorrow at our insistent levels of understanding. Steve recognizes this, as does Edelman PR. Rubel’s report here references this study by Edelman Digital’s Monte Lutz, which more or less confirms what Brian Solis professed in WTF.

My point is, understanding is generally a pretty simple process. In this case, the revenue streams are not print, digital news, paid, earned, ads, or door to door marketing mojo – the future of business is all of these. Maybe understanding what’s “next” is about putting all these intelligent pieces of the puzzle together?

But in what proportion?

Since Web 2.0 surfaced as a concept going forward, these content, technology and revenue questions have gone largely unsolved for all except elites such as Amazon and Google. Rubel mention’s game changers like my friend Pete Cashmore’s Mashable in the “Paid Co-Creation” crucible (as Rubel aptly suggests, maybe the best scheme for news revenue). But, in the larger scheme of things people are actually consuming less and less NYT’s type of information. Does this mean there’s not longer room? Certainly not. However, it does mean competition for, and the dissemination for select news stories or paid content will undergo serious change. The screen below hints are a problem Google’s SPAM team has been dealing with, when all is said and done.

Obama and Prism

A Google News result – do readers need 40,000 opinions on the same issue?

However I may critique the terminologies of the “disclosure” component of Steve’s report, the wisdom of Edelman calling paid content to question is super relevant to PR, marketing, and advertising professionals, as well as the businesses they support. So-called “owned and earned media”, according to Edelman, is rightfully “amplified” in the context of Rubel’s report, rather than replaced.

In what Edelman called “transmedia storytelling”, the firm Edelman proposes a circular model for journalism that should, and will, include social media and other feedback mechanisms. The end result will be, according to Edelman’s content guru, a richer experience that offers quality for readers and advertisers. But the report does have real meat in it, especially where traditional news media languish in the red ink of bygone advertising schemes. And here’s where Solis’ WTF concept really takes firm hold. Transmedia storytelling HAS TO BE truly traverse traditional silo-ed concepts and methods.

PR, Marketing, and Advertising Converge

Edelman's evolving PR stanceEven though Rubel’s report fails at any breakthrough content ideology, the Edelman executive does breech at least two fundamental point of departure for the firm. First,  the structure of engagement for paid content, and second by installing processes which better ensure a division in between paid and earned media – teams of dedicated executives with disparate tasks and methods. The installation of partitioned accountability and operations Rubel’s report outlines (please read it) lends itself to a huge credibility factor for Richard Edelman’s company. And too, virtually admitting even Edelman does not have the answers yet, this is huge.

It is also abundantly clear for us that Edelman and the world’s other top communications firms are mightily wrestling with best practices across the spectrum. Without giving away the farm here, a recent Richard Edelman post about this which he allowed us to post frames this whole convergence issue. Richard’s Dissenting View where recent competitor Fleishman Hillard convergence moves were concerned sparked some heavy debate behind the scenes. While I do not care to carry this further, suffice it to say the world’s finest are hard at it defining for themselves, and for their clients, exactly the best processes for these disciplines going forward. Richard came forward honestly back in January to express how these rapid changes in communications overall had convinced him to slightly alter course in a more favorable direction toward paid content within the PR mix. That said, Edelman is also crystal clear in his intent to clearly differentiate marketing and PR roles. In fairness, I feel like Dave Senay of FH is focused similarly even despite marketing’s place for all new triumvirate agencies of merit.

In conclusion here, and for what it is worth, our firm’s experience down in the trenches have been confirmed and modified too by closer scrutiny of what my old friend Brian Solis’ (at right in London last week) homework is about. One huge problem PR firms face is the massive head start marketing has where “influencing” the digital space is concerned. I believe the astute reader can easily identify this synergy within this report and others. The long and short here is, marketing is distinctly NOT PR. As Solis so eloquently puts it in WTF. Speaking about the so-called marketing funnel, Brian sums up the problem for not only bought-media, but for any communications plan even slightly narrow of focus:

“But what if businesses were investing their time and resources in the wrong places? What if where we think we can get customers to notice us is not at all where their attention is actually focused? “

The reader may have the tendency to believe here that mobile and especially social media channels will supercede the news media Edelman and other agencies target with strategies for paid + earned media attention (advertising), but let me assure you Solis’ theories and practice, nor any of ours down here in the trenches, profess any such nonsense. As Rubel characterizes the Paid Co-Creation format for integration with news, that form of emerging content advert is “a potential win for the reader, the marketer, and the publisher.” Withing this simple declaration resides the public relations company’s role  of media intermediary and storyteller. So for consumers of online editorial news at least, the viability of paid and earned content coexisting is already proven really. Only one problem really remains.

I bet Brian Solis would shift that 11% unsure and the 45% increase in marketing spend up there in Edelman’s B2C chart toward social-mobile modalities geared for a generation of consumers few experts have categorized. I’ll talk later on about Solis’ Generation C and a concept brought forward by Jim Lecinski’s and Google’s so-called Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT). Within this theory on new marketing and consumerism reside the overall strategies that content and ethics such Edelman points to, and I am sure our ongoing discussions and discoveries will reveal classically refined strategies beyond marketing speak too. In fact, improper positioning of marketing is part of the problem where adaptation is concerned. The proper balance for future business is not too dissimilar from another Edelman concept illustrated by the Media Cloverleaf below.

Edelman's Media Cloverleaf

Edelman’s Media Cloverleaf

 

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Comments

  1. Lyndon Johnson says

    An interesting summary, thank you. I know that paid content has been called all kinds of things – advertorial, partner publishing, paid, earned… – but surely, even with disclosure it’s effectively advertising.

    Editorial is content that is there on merit, i.e. it has inherent value to the reader/viewer irrespective of who creates it – not because money has changed hands to put it on a page. I have no issues ethically with companies paying for content placement – as long as it is clearly labelled as such, but I do question the value it delivers.

    It’s not so much thought leadership as thought ownership for the right price, isn’t it?

    • Phil Butler says

      @Lyndon. That is the assessment most readers would attach I think. People have become used to commercials, and even enjoy them if the quality is there. But “tolerate” is the term that comes to mind for me. “Inclusion” in for instance, motion pictures, is the sort of refined brand placement that makes the most sense in these early digital times. Marketing speak and strategies have taken over, and to an extent this is why some cannot get the numbers they want from social media.

      I was with Brian Solis all last week and to be very honest, he has done the homework on all this. Traditional news media, revenue stream wise, has some major issues. What should end up happening is all but a select few very good media outlets, major ones probably, will dry up and blow away. This will leave a bigger piece, of the ever shrinking monetization pie for them to live off of.

      Edelman has the right ideas here in my view, but a tad behind the curve if you ask me.

      Always,
      Phil

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