May 2 2017

Earned Media: Why and How to Market Third Party Credibility

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Content marketing is attracting significant buzz at PR and marketing conferences and is the darling of owned and often paid media. Quality of content will range it very high, and when you unite it with likes supplier, you’ll get the winning combination. Yet, the heart of public relations and a solid strategic communications plan is earned media. Why “earned”? Because you can’t buy third party credibility.


Earned media comes in several flavors: an article placement in traditional media (e.g. Washington Post, CNN or CBS Radio), awards and speaking opportunities. While some speakers earn top dollar to keynote a conference, most professionals are invited to deliver a speech or participate on an industry panel to share their expertise – thereby earning credibility from the conference host.

Awards for personal or program accomplishments are earned by professional success as evaluated by your peers or an expert panel. Based on the strength of your narrative and completion of the application requirements, your work is critiqued to determine if it is worthy of recognition and reward.

Having a reporter tell your story brings credibility that you can’t deliver through sponsored content or video that you produced. Often times, media relations results in a single quote in a larger story. Sometimes, it’s a feature story about a product, executive or community investment. In each instance, there’s tremendous value to sharing the article or broadcast report with internal and external stakeholders.

In each case, the outcome of selling your narrative – a speaking gig, an award or an article – brings earned media to your brand. Many have tried to put a price tag on this third party credibility, but it’s difficult to quantify by traditional ROI measures. Therefore, it’s up to you to ensure maximum visibility for the success.

Here are a few common means to ensure the media story, speaking opportunity or award receives attention long-term.

  1. Post to your website with links and photos. Use a pull quote from the article or award citation to highlight the key message.
  2. Include in your email and content marketing campaigns.
  3. Add award badges to your website, presentation materials and collateral.
  4. Share on social media and include photos and video if available. You can also include sample tweets and Facebook posts in a social media toolkit for influencers who can help spread the good word.
  5. Use these earned accolades in paid media if appropriate.
  6. Highlight in your annual report.
  7. Ask influencers to help share the good news (bears repeating).

The best means to ensuring your audience knows about the great media coverage, heralded speech or much-deserved award is to spread the good news. In my agency days, we called this “merchandizing the results.” Today, it’s about using owned media to promote earned media. Paid media services such as Outbrain and Storify should also be considered to maximize visibility.

A well-rounded marketing and communications plan will address earned, owned and paid media. Each has its place in the PR/Marketing mix. Only earned media, however, carries third party credibility.

Note: This article was originally published on

Jan 25 2017

OSA100: Reflecting a Century of Innovation

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Fiber optics, holograms, telescopes, lasers, MRIs, high-speed cameras, LASIK, drones and virtual reality are all possible because of advances in the science of light – more commonly known as the field of optics and photonics. These innovations are ubiquitous in modern society, yet were nascent or not yet imagined in 1916 when The Optical Society (OSA) was founded as the scientific home for optical engineering.

Turning 100 was an opportunity to raise the visibility of the society (now more than 20,000 members worldwide) and promote its role in industry. Given that science societies typically make news through research published in scholarly journals or presented at scientific conferences, the PR focus was on trade media and social media channels utilized by its members. OSA also wanted to use the centennial to strengthen its brand presence and created an exhibit of 100 iconic inventions and inventors tied to the society’s history. Here is a summary of the PR/branding activities and accomplishments, along with some lessons learned.

The key elements and results included:

1)    The OSA 100 exhibit of iconic inventions and inventors was showcased globally at 30 trade shows attracting more than 27,000 visitors. At eight conferences it was accompanied by a “Light the Future” visionary keynote and reception – bringing an additional 4,700 participants. The 10’ x 20’ exhibit is currently on loan to the Rochester (NY) Museum and Science Center. A portable version of the exhibit was on display at 16 universities in 9 countries.

2)    Media featured three partnerships for advertising, news release distribution and a monthly Q&A with OSA members in a trade journal, as well as 18 news releases and proactive pitching, resulting in 1,734 stories, 26 interviews and 25 bylines/blogs with a reach of nearly 4 million.

3)    Social media featured daily facts and graphics about optics and photonics. We held Twitter chats and Reddit AMAs with members – a first for OSA. We collected more than 100 “I am #OSAProud” photos, promoted two contests, shared 148 videos of members – by far the most popular OSA100 content on Facebook – and distributed a toolkit called CAKE for student chapters with nearly 400 downloads. Twitter followers increased by 29%, Facebook by 14% and YouTube by 35%.

4)    The centennial website featured the 100 icons from the exhibit; OSA centennial publications including the “Century of Optics” book; the CAKE toolkit with presentation templates, event guidelines and social media suggestions; Centennial Authentic Moment member videos and a timeline. The website had more than 71,000 visitors with nearly 3,000 publication downloads.

5)    Centennial attracted 17 corporate sponsors providing more than $400,000 in contributions and in-kind media services.

Plan Your Work. Work Your Plan.

How did we achieve those successes? The PR team worked closely with the centennial project director and the OSA volunteer committee to develop the narratives and content used on social media and in media outreach. It began with months of planning including:

1)    Research. You need to know your audience, which we accomplished through focus groups and surveys of leadership, staff and members. We also needed to know the context for 2016. There were numerous centennials last year – National Parks, Boeing, Thermador and BMW to name a few.

2)    Plan Your Work. You need a strategic plan with measureable objectives, but you also need to be flexible and make changes as needed. For example, we didn’t intend to send temporary exhibits to universities. However, once OSA members saw the main exhibit, they wanted to help promote to their local communities. Also, the videos impact on social media and with members was so successful that we continue to record these testimonials.

3)    Work Your Plan. Timelines and deadlines help keep your PR plan on track. We had numerous events throughout the year that allowed us to create a steady stream of content for news releases, social media content and media outreach. We also expected that media pitching would follow the traditional “pitch and place” model.  However, we quickly learned that editors were hungry for content and happy to publish bylines. Once again being flexible, we wrote much more content than originally envisioned. The upside was that it helped us keep the centennial narrative fresh with new angles.

4)    Measure and Evaluate. Quantitative measurements counted what we did. Evaluating and analyzing those numbers throughout the year helped us make adjustments. Unplanned successes are good news. However, not everything will be successful. For example, we planned a video contest “Video the Future” with substantial cash and prize incentives. We had an aggressive offline and social media effort – personally contacting our most active Twitter followers. Not a single submission. We learned that video is popular to consume, but it is not so easy to incentivize members to produce video.

The Optical Society’s centennial year was among the most rewarding challenges of my career. The validations from countless member testimonials were the greatest reward – and confirmation that research and planning are essential for successful implementation and strategic measurement.

Note: This blog was originally published on LinkedIn January 24, 2017

Aug 7 2011

Dogbert’s PR Ethics

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Posted my 400th Tweet this morning. Dogbert’s “PR Ethics” highlight negative perceptions about our craft.“>

I moderated two APR Readiness Review panels a few weeks ago and neither candidate had given the PRSA Code Ethics serious consideration (yet).  I believe we can all benefit from further reflection on the ethical choices we make daily on the job.

May 20 2010

ComPRehension Guest

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I recently wrote about earning my Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) credential for the Public Relations Society’s ComPRehension blog. As Mid-Atlantic District Chair, I continue to remain active in PRSA and will be supporting the APR Boot Camp process to be held during the International Conference in Washington, DC, in October.

Mar 10 2010

Lack of Brains Hinders Research

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Yes, this headline was a question on the APR exam to define one of Lippmann’s barriers to communication(The answer is: Distortion due to compression).

When I started my blog last fall, I had intended to write more about the process of studying for the APR exam. Instead, I found my passion in writing about social media, crisis communications and current events.

Now that I have earned my APR, I am both relieved and excited to join this elite group of public relations professionals. Here are my lessons learned for the successful completion of the APR readiness review and computer examination process.

1) Be ready to make the commitment to read a lot (study guide, text books, articles, case studies) and to exercise the APR knowledge, skills and abilities in hypothetical scenarios.

2) Form a study group. You can meet in person or chat online (e.g. Google Chat). Invite APRs to your study sessions. Talk through every scenario in the study guide and your own case studies. Deconstruct case studies and rebuild them.

3) Embrace communications theory. It had been years since I thought seriously about diffusion theory and the Grunig models of activating publics. These and other theoretical concepts have helped make sense of the confusion surrounding social media, for example.

4) Research and measurement tied to objectives. Unfortunately, many PR operations often do not have sufficient budget for pre and post research or measurement.  Yet, these topics are a significant portion of the exam. Study up, and you’ll find new ways of thinking about how to incorporate research and measurement into your job with no or little budget.

5) Business literacy and ethics. Experience is the best teacher in these areas. If you haven’t worked for a publicly traded company or been faced with challenging decision making, seek out colleagues who have.

6) Sitting in front of a computer for 3 hours and 45 minutes was not as painful as I envisioned. There is plenty of time to read the questions and review answers if necessary.