Navigating today’s marketing communications landscape can be a nightmare for those who operate in the arena, let alone if you’re a business owner who has plenty of competing priorities to keep your mind occupied.
So many strategies, tactics, apps, tools, platforms, opinions and motherhood statements with origins going back to simpler times – it’s enough to make your head spin! Oh, and let’s not forget wave after wave of opportunistic folks spruiking the latest hack and formula – they look good, they sound convincing … but is what they’re offering right for you?
It’s little wonder solopreneurs and business owners throw their hands in the air and do nothing.
Just as bad, they do their homework (often researching the myriad tactics on offer without a strategic plan in their back pocket), only to come down with a severe bout of ‘analysis paralysis’. The result’s the same: Nothing happens, or they take tentative steps down a path that’s potentially wrong for their brand and their business.
I’m a massive believer in going wide first to try and understand the big picture, and then armed with a plan, draw your focus back in on those tactics that make sense for your business and what it is you’re setting out to achieve.
Developing your own philosophy around marketing and communications is all part of the plan: this way, you do what’s right for your brand and shut out the rest of the noise.
By way of example, my philosophy is to build a strong foundation for your marketing communications using public relations, or to be more precise in this instance, owned media, social media and earned media.
PR, to me, does the heavy lifting for paid media and your more overt marketing and promotional activity.
For some businesses, they don’t need to market their brand all that hard because the PR base they’ve built is sufficient. Other businesses, in order to grow and scale, might need to invest in tactics that veer down the paths of advertising and direct pitching.
Let me explain …
Introducing the ‘Marketing Communications Pyramid’
In a recent episode of my Become Your Own PR Machine podcast, I unpacked the ‘jigsaw’ that is marketing communications.
To do that, I introduced what I call my MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS PYRAMID (see image below), which shows not just the full gamut of marcomms, but also where public relations fits in the overall scheme of things
The foundations of the marketing communications pyramid comprise owned media, social media, and earned media in an integrated manner to build (a) recognition for your brand, (b) resonance for your story and your message, (c) relationships with key ‘publics’ … plus grow and maintain (d) relevance and reputation in the marketplace.
Owned media comes first. These are media channels controlled by you. THINK: Blogs, podcasts, email newsletters and YouTube videos (you don’t control YouTube, of course, but the videos can be embedded on your blog, for instance, a channel that you’re the boss of). Events and webinars are also owned media.
Social media sits in lock-step with owned media; platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter (‘X’) and Instagram are crucial for distributing (and amplifying) your content and engaging with audiences. Key thing to remember here is that social media without the ‘social’ is just ‘media’ – interaction and engagement with others on the platforms is the key to social media success!
Earned media involves gaining coverage via independent third-party media outlets. THINK: Editorial exposure in traditional media outlets (newspapers, magazines, TV and radio) plus other people’s podcasts, blogs and online publications, email newsletters and YouTube channels. The definition of media has changed inextricably in recent years, and we have lots of media properties – large, small and micro- to choose from!
And let’s not forget public speaking. The stage is the media, and if you’re invited to speak at an industry conference or community meetup, you’ve earned that right.
Moving up the pyramid we find partner media – this is when we leverage other people’s events or properties through sponsorships and partnerships. This can be a terrific way to reach new (targeted) audiences and build brand recognition and affinity.
I’d also put paid-for influencer marketing in this bucket (while ‘non-paid’ influencer relations sits in earned media).
Paid media comes next – this includes both traditional advertising (TV, radio, press) and digital (social ads via Facebook, Instagram, TikTok etc).
And sitting atop the pyramid is direct communications. THINK: personal emails/phone calls including cold calling, LinkedIn connecting-and-messaging programs, face-to-face meetings and boardroom/Zoom presentations with key individuals.
NOW, HERE’S THE KICKER: A consistent and credible presence across owned, earned and social media will make your paid media (as well as your direct communications) efforts work harder.
In other words, they do the heavy lifting.
Sure, nothing’s stopping you from launching with paid ads, but if people don’t know/like/trust your brand – if they don’t recognise who you are and what you stand for … if you’re not being talked about in a positive way in the marketplace (social proof) – then good luck with that.
You’d better have deep pockets because your ads are not going to work as well because of the lack of familiarity and affinity people have with your brand. This is not a knock on advertising or direct pitching, it’s just a pragmatic perspective: if people have prior (emotional) connection with your business, then your ad or pitch is likely to be more effective as a result. It’s not either/or- it’s the combination that works best.
OKAY, SO WHERE DOES PR FIT IN?
- Owned media
- Social media (organic)
- Earned media
- Partner media (strategic/niche sponsorships are often managed by PR pros – community partnerships are also PR’s ‘bread and butter’).
(This is a bit of a grey area. Some PR professionals also manage brands’ social media ad spend and paid-for influencer marketing activity – if this is amplification of owned media, absolutely this fits squarely under a PR remit, otherwise it’s definitely a marketing function).
And of course, content fuels all of the above. That’s why I’m all in on creating our own ‘media network’ (more on that in a coming newsletter).
Remember: Not all strategies will be right for every business; that’s why developing your own philosophy (for content and social media, and marketing communications more broadly) is crucial for success in this landscape filled with abundant tools, tactics, and opinions.
IN SUMMARY: I contend that PR sits at the base of the Marketing Communications Pyramid – it builds the foundations for the broader marketing communications of a business (or organisation).
THINK: a strategic blend of owned media, social media and earned media. In essence, we’re talking about creating our own media network so we can deepen the level of connection we have with the people who matter most to the success of our business – or cause or issue, if that’s our end-game.
P.S. I discuss the Marketing Communication Pyramid in more detail in this episode of the BECOME YOUR OWN PR MACHINE podcast. Subscribe now via your podcast app of choice.