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Interrogative on Owned Media

Owned media are the artifacts of content over which PR people have total control, as we use it to propagate content that ranges from business updates, to philanthropic activities and dicey public policy issues. Most legit media outlets will publish it in exchange for lots of cash. It’s included in PR academic circles as part of a well-rounded publicity offering.

Most of it stinks. It’s the cereal component to a breakfast of fruit and milk.

Communicators are their own worst enemies on this front. Since owned media are literally dictated, the content is primarily accountable to branding, customer messaging, and executive egos.

None of these qualities have anything to do with whether or not the content is relevant, useful, or even true, but it can yield nice examples of them “successfully” doing their jobs.

Instead of using owned media as mirrors into which your company can stare adoringly, here are three questions you can ask:

First, would a real journalist ever write your story or shoot your video? If it couldn’t pass that test, it’s a good indication that it’s not relevant or believable, so why would you pay to promote it? The bar for owned content is actually higher when it comes to credibility (since audiences arrive with preconceived notions about commercialism). Your content has to be objectively newsworthy, and your approach needs to scream necessity and meaning, not just gargle all of the buzzwords and images you think you’re supposed to promote.

Here’s a good test for your next creative effort: If it never appeared, or disappeared the day after you published it, would anybody care (other than the agency you paid to develop it)?

Second, why does it have to be slick? This is a particular problem with websites but also includes many of those paid placements in media I mentioned earlier. If your video or branded article are beautifully written, or your video is narrated by that same voice that introduces Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride, then it’s generic garbage. Sorry, but no stakeholder has asked for another unremarkable piece of content in their lives; if you are going to intrude on them why not make a bluntly compelling ad? Better yet, put on that journalist hat from the prior point and challenge yourself to create something that reads and looks like news and not a corporate brochure. It’ll help keep you honest on the content.

Third, what makes it uniquely yours? If your article or podcast could have been produced by one of your competitors, let alone other companies, you need to really ponder why you’re producing it in the first place. I mean, who cares? Instead, consider what your stakeholders are interested in hearing or, better yet, dare to address the complex and even challenging topics that you’ve avoided because they aren’t highlighted on that grid your marketers use to determine messaging. Present a unique POV instead of your execs extolling the merits of the IoT and you may actually get somebody to care about it.

Owned content is a huge and incredibly promising proposition that can be used to articulate unique POVs, educate stakeholders on issues they care about, and change hearts and minds, but only if companies use it wisely.

Maybe it’s time to stop looking in the mirror?