Paid Media in PR?

Has paid media earned its place in PR? A question posed in an interesting Gorkana event hosted by News UK earlier this week. There’s no doubt that things have moved on in a world where everyone’s voice can now be heard – but it’s all about whether what’s being said has value and relevance.

Creating compelling content is now not something owned by journalists, the explosion of social media means that in today’s world it doesn’t matter who is saying it, and whether that’s written by consumers, journalists or PRs – if it’s interesting it is read and acted upon. What seems to be more up for debate is who should lead in this arena. Advertising execs may see this as their domain, as an extension of the advertising space, but PRs are the ones who have always been the storytellers and closer to the careful balancing act of making something interesting, whether it’s paid for or has to stand up as compelling enough to warrant editorial space. They are also used to being the link between client and journalist – seeing both the need for copy to communicate relevant messages about the brand or product as well as appealing to the interests of the journalist’s audience.

The panel debate had Mark Borkowski giving the PR perspective; Tiffanie Darke, ex Sunday Times Style Editor who is now heading up Method, the commercial arm of News UK, and Emma Tucker, Deputy Editor of The Times, explaining the careful balance between retaining some editorial integrity and how far paid media has moved on in recent years. The fact that the debate was happening in the News UK building after their launch of a service headed by someone previously in such a senior editorial role shows that News UK are taking the subject seriously.

A separate editorial team will handle the News UK commercial content, and they were keen to point out that they would, and had already, turned down paid media projects for clients who did not meet the editorial stance of the newspaper – despite big budgets being available. They were also adamant that the reader should always be clear whether what they are reading is pure editorial or paid for, being explicit in how and what is funded commercially is something Method at News UK is working on to improve clarity for their readers.

When executed well there’s no doubt that paid media content can be used effectively, especially when used to explain difficult messages that need more in-depth explanations. It’s a case of PR needing to be involved in its creation, without the size of budget dictating that advertising takes control in a space where it is not necessarily equipped with the experience to deliver the best results. With an ex BBC journalist, Keith Beech, as in-house Head of Content at Nexus, we can certainly mould content into an editorial style and deliver the right messages for our food and healthcare agency clients be it paid for or editorial – and for the future it seems that both will become increasingly merged.