The Pitfalls Of Promoting Earned Media With Paid Media

January 4, 2018

Is this a thing now? 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to ask myself that question while either observing or learning about a new practice in media relations. My reaction — typically strong — stems from the fact I am a recovering journalist and a firm believer that PR pros and the media can work together ethically and harmoniously with no squishiness surrounding roles and rules of engagement.

Last summer, I was approached with what seemed like an odd request at the time from a partner at a media agency. The agency proposed that a paid social spend be put behind earned media coverage. The idea? Pay to amplify third-party credibility. Harmless enough, right? I ended up earning a great story from an A-list entertainment publication, and it was only after the story was published that the media agency requested permission from an ad salesperson at the outlet to promote it with paid social. (To be clear, the paid promotion was never once discussed during the pitching process.)

However, it turns out using paid media to promote earned media is a thing. And for at least one brand — indie entertainment company A24 — it appears to be working really well. As Chris Thilk recently wrote for Adweek:

“…A recent A24 tactic that’s been used not only for The Disaster Artist but also for Lady Bird, the universally praised, coming-of-age drama featuring Greta Gerwig as the writer and director. The company has used promoted Twitter posts that come from the studio, but rather than linking to a ticket sales platform or official website, they link to feature stories about the two stars in the entertainment media…A24’s promoted Twitter post for The Disaster Artist links to a Variety cover story on Franco discussing the film as well as his career to date; Lady Bird’s promoted ad links to a Glamour interview with star Saoirse Ronan about the importance of stories in Hollywood for — and created by — women.”

On its face, this seems like a win-win. The studio gets to amplify third-party credibility and build up its lead actors. The outlet gets additional eyeballs.

But there are pitfalls. As I see it,

  • The paid social media post may lead some to believe the earned coverage was actually part of a paid arrangement, and therefore no more persuasive than sponsored content.
  • It may create the expectation from outlets that brands will always promote coverage going forward if they’ve done it before.
  • And finally, from the perspective of an ad department that’s expected to be the lifeblood for any successful outlet, it’s impossible to imagine this sits well. Money that could’ve gone toward a digital spend with the outlet instead goes toward Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It’s yet another case of social media platforms bleeding publishers dry.

That said, this is a thing now. What do you think about it?