Why Now’s the Time for PR to Expand Into Paid Media

January 2021
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As a young reporter I was playfully admonished not to commingle with the sales department: “Never the twain shall meet.”

Later, in both corporate and agency PR settings, I collaborated with media planners and buyers. But for me their work was mired in mystery as I focused on snagging earned media. They didn’t understand my work, either. 

Media buyers seemed puzzled whenever I said that I couldn’t guarantee media coverage in a specific outlet at a particular time. But over the years I have come to recognize media planners and buyers as some of the sharpest, most analytical people I know.

Today, integrated strategic communications demand that those of us who shape public perception work together with media buyers to achieve common goals and objectives. I have seen powerful results when PR campaigns are intertwined with effective advertising. 

Over the past year I have transitioned to play a larger role in media strategy and buying at an agency that serves clients in virtually every market across the United States. And you know what? I’ve found it fascinating, educational and lots of fun.

As communicators are asked to do more with less — filling in for vacant positions, supervising new teams, etc. — we are stretching our experience and knowledge. That’s why this is an opportune time for PR practitioners to learn more about media planning and buying.

PR pros have the skills

PR practitioners are well-positioned to tackle the paid side of media. For starters, we know how to conduct research. That critical first step in any effective PR campaign also begins successful media buying. Knowledge of geographic markets, demographics, psychographics and diversity is distilled to create media-buying plans with the same level of detail we expect in public relations.

As PR professionals, we also know media. We understand the plethora of media options — traditional, digital, social, out-of-home, etc. — and emerging possibilities such as artificial intelligence. Such knowledge gives us a framework for media buying.

We also know audiences — what they’re seeing, reading, listening to, etc. We’re sensitive to diversity and inclusion and have our eye on generational influencers. Such knowledge is also valuable in media planning and buying. 

Another reason PR people are well-suited for the transition into paid media is that we can negotiate. If you’ve ever bargained with a vendor or a demanding client, or had a news release edited by committee, with practice you can also arrange the best possible media buy. 

We’re also detail-oriented. Media planning and buying is filled with details: markets, audiences, media type, run dates, prices, terms, etc. Who better than a PR pro to rise to this occasion? After all, if we can remember a particular reporter’s story from two years ago, then we can also handle the myriad minutiae of media buying.

Moreover, we’re focused on results. PR plans and paid-media plans are both tools used to achieve results based on research, planning, implementation and evaluation. The methods may be different and complementary, but in either case, keeping an eye on the goal is what it’s all about.

How to get there

If you have the opportunity to expand your horizons into media buying, or hope to better understand this craft, then welcome the challenge. 

As outlined above, PR pros can quickly step into media-buying roles, though it might takes years or even decades of practice to become an expert. Still, welcome the challenge. Stretch your skills. Don’t be afraid to try something new.

But just as public relations involves its own encyclopedia of terms, you will need to learn the lingo of media planning and buying — which can differ among print ads, broadcast spots, streaming, out-of-home and digital. Get to know terms like “cost per thousand,” “flight dates,” “impressions,” “net reach” and “rotation.”

Broadcast media buying has its own vernacular, with terms such as “avails,” “average quarter-hour rating,” “cost per point,” “daypart,” “over the top” and “run of schedule.” The argot continues with digital buys, where you’ll hear about “click-through rates,” “cost per click” and more. Numerous online resources can help you learn the esoteric language of media buying.

To expand from public relations into paid media, it also helps to find a friend who can bring you up to speed. I have been fortunate to know some skilled media buyers whose brains I have picked for help. Also lean on your media relationships. I found media sales professionals to be helpful in navigating the nuances of media placements. Remember there are no dumb questions.

Finally, expanding into paid media will improve your analytics. Analytics in this era of big data is another way PR pros can demonstrate value. Data from media buys can provide eye-popping details, even in real time. In PR we often wait to see our full campaign results, but a paid advertisement can quickly show whether it’s working, allowing you to pivot and innovate as needed.

By gleaning the many analytics of media buying, you will be certain to expand your knowledge while becoming even more masterful — and valuable — in your PR role. 

Return to Current Issue Looking Ahead to a New Year | January 2021
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