If there’s one constant in the world of public relations, it’s change. The profession is evolving at a dizzying rate.

One change on the radar of some PR futurists is a blurring of the lines between earned and paid media.

Earned and Paid Media Are Merging

It once was that the two were completely separate. Public relations pros secure what is known as earned media, meaning no money changes hands. It’s purely editorial content. Then, there was paid media, also known as advertising. With ads, nothing appears unless it’s paid for the brand.

What we see now is a blending of the two, which some call native advertising or sponsored content. It differs from traditional advertising in that it isn’t relegated to the margins of the digital or printed page. Sometimes, the audience can’t tell the difference between the two. Recent examples include Porsche in The AtlanticAirbnb in the New York Times, and Under Armour in Complex.

As they merge, we have the makings of a sea change in the industry.

How Does This Put the Role of PR Pros in Question?

Many in public relations have a degree in Journalism, so their roots are in earning editorial coverage. Now, with the advent of these paid options, it casts the role of PR in a different light.

Some view it as good news because it gives them another alternative to earn media for their client – which is undoubtedly tougher to garner these days. More public relations people plus fewer journalists equal more competition. Native advertising gives PR pros another way to get those stories out there. Another pro is that a paid placement provides more control over timing, leaving less to chance.

Others in the profession are slow to come around. They see it as going against the very grain of their journalistic training–never shall earned and paid mix. It muddies the water, without a doubt.

What Does This Mean for the Future of PR?

While there’s debate about who should own what, some ask if it should it be a conundrum. If PR people are equipped with the journalistic skills needed to communicate the client’s message, should it matter if there was a payment made for the placement?

Because PR pros excel at storytelling and writing, this should be a smooth transition. Some make a case for PR and marketing to work closely together on native advertising initiatives because marketers have complementary experience analyzing data which can help brands determine the best channels to get that story out.

“This blurring of media lines will underscore the need for more alignment between PR and marketing efforts in the coming years,” says Amy Osmond Cook of Osmond Marketing. “Paid and owned media, when not executed properly, can often come off as too promotional. PR, when not analyzed, can be an expensive endeavor with few results.”

Do the Lines Between Paid and Earned Media Need to Be Redefined?

Franco D’Onofrio, director at Twiga Communications, makes a case for redefining the line between paid advertising and PR. He believes content creation can still fall to public relations practitioners.

“If we consider the simple definition of PR – the practice of managing communication between an organization and its publics – the nature and intention of native advertising places it firmly in the domain of PR.”

Does this mean more ad agencies will partner with PR firms? Or bring PR in-house? Perhaps.

In the past, anything “paid” sat squarely in the advertising category, while anything earned was firmly in the PR camp. Now, however, we have public relations pros paying to promote social media content to further amplify earned media.

So, shouldn’t the content sit wherever it sits best? Native advertising isn’t an ad, in the traditional sense.

“Since native advertising is designed specifically to be part of the media narrative, rather than a banner on the right, then there can be no arguments about who should oversee this,” says D’Onofrio.

Of course, the world of advertising is undergoing massive changes, as well. Traditional ads don’t work anymore. 84% of millennials don’t trust traditional advertising. It may make sense from both perspectives to have these two collaborate on more content.

Will PR Pros Get on Board with These Changes?

Some already are. Others are reluctant. But, as the song goes, the times they are a-changin’. Where will PR land when the dust settles?

This post was initially published on this site on November 2, 2017. We republish timely posts for our readers who may have missed them the first time around.