Branding / August 17, 2020
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The media landscape has dramatically changed over the last several years. Cultural shifts and the proliferation of digital, social and mobile channels have made a permanent impact, making the need for a fully integrated A/E/C communications strategy absolutely essential.
As we’ve previously discussed, effective marketing in today’s ecosystem requires a strategic and integrated approach. Strategy should come before tactics, content before channels, online and offline efforts should reinforce one another and everything the marketing department does should be aligned with business development. Nowhere is this need for integration more necessary than in a firm’s communication strategy—and the execution.
Historically A/E/C firms had to rely on paid media and earned media as their primary means to get their message across to their target audience. Paid media is obviously attention that you pay to receive, including traditional advertising, direct mail as well as online advertising, search engine marketing and paid social media amplification. Public relations and earned media have always been a communications plan staple with the goal of receiving attention from the press in the form of articles, mentions, features and interviews.
But with the explosion of content marketing over the last several years, there has been an incredible opportunity for firm’s to create owned media: the content (such as your website, social media profiles, blog, email marketing, etc.) that your firm produces and owns. So A/E/C firms are capitalizing on the idea of “brands becoming publishers” because they control the message and they publish the content. And this emphasis has marked a seismic shift in marketing communications, because marketers are no longer dependent (or at least significantly less dependent) on advertising and public relations to get their audience’s attention.
Shared media is similar to earned media however instead of earning the attention of the press, you’re earning the attention of your audience. Social media has created a generation of audience-journalists, which means that your firm’s content—whether owned, paid or earned—can be shared by your audience with their networks and thus compounding the reach exponentially.
Historically, smaller and mid-sized firms were at a significant communications disadvantage to large firms whose budgets for advertising, public relations and tradeshows were unmatchable. With owned media, it’s not about outspending your competitors; it’s more about outsmarting them by creating compelling content that’s relevant to your audience and shareworthy. Educational content (as opposed to typical firm-centric content) that answers questions and provides subject-matter insight is not only more effective at reaching and engaging your target audience, it also supports business development efforts by nurturing prospects through a long buyer’s journey. So in this new media landscape, smaller and mid-size firms can have just as much marketing power (and sometimes more) than their peers with deeper pockets and larger marketing teams.
Another amazing thing about publishing content is that owned media also leads to earned media. While still important, the traditional press release and media pitch in many cases has been supplanted by something known as Google and Twitter. Many journalists and reporters use search engines and social media to do their research, look for story ideas and seek out subject matter experts. Which means that your thought leadership content can and will garner media coverage for your firm. Additionally, both paid and earned media can also lead people to find and engage with your content—further amplifying the reach.
Even with the addition of owned and shared to the media mix, many firms make the mistake of continuing to operate their paid (advertising) and earned (PR) media efforts in a silo. In today’s marketing ecosystem, all marketing and communications tactics and activities—including public relations, advertising, content marketing, email marketing and the like—should be operating from the same overarching communications strategy. Each component should be supporting the other and conveying the same consistent message from channel to channel.
It’s important to realize that content marketing done right, is not merely another tactic to add to the mix, but rather a philosophy that should permeate every facet of your marketing and communications plan. If your firm is committed to content marketing, your integrated communications plan around owned, earned, paid and shared media should be ultimately support the objectives, goals and target audience of your content marketing strategy.
Even though owned media may be the dominant centerpiece of today’s A/E/C marketing mix, it’s best to leverage the strengths of all media options in order to most effectively reach and engage your target audience. Remember that owned leads to earned and shared, and paid and earned lead to greater visibility of both your firm and your content. In other words, don’t put all your communications eggs in one basket. Diversify your mix and let each component reinforce and compound the effectiveness and reach of the other.
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Due to the ever-shifting media landscape, it’s even more critical to communicate—whether online, offline or in the media—from one holistic and integrated strategy. Consistency in both your objective and message will ensure the best possible outcome of your communications efforts.