If you cut a leg off a table, it’s liable, to wobble. Until now corporate affairs has coped admirably with just such a missing leg. It’s high time we added it in – it’s time that advertising and paid-for activity became a regular, consistent part of all corporate affairs activity. 2022 should be the year when every corporate affairs department makes the case for a dedicated Paid media budget, owned and executed by their team. If not, the ability to perform the job increasingly demanded by boards and leadership teams will suffer.

Before the internet, reputation focused on two main mediums: direct influence through, among other things, political and stakeholder engagement, physical events, and financial communication; and indirect influence, delivered primarily through earned media.

The efficacy of direct influence has changed little. If anything, its importance has grown after two years of intermittent face-to-face contact. However, the options for indirect influence have changed significantly.

The way in which you find and reach an audience has shifted dramatically. Social media platforms, video sharing sites, internet forums, podcasts and email newsletters have all become primary sources of information.

That’s great news on the one hand – more options, more avenues, more choice. But it’s bad on the other – you need to do more to find and then reach that audience. The problem gets worse once you realise that several of these newer options require an extra step to actually cut through. Most social media platforms offer little to organisations by way of reach unless you spend money. Research suggests organic reach on LinkedIn sits at 10% of followers at best. It’s a similar story for Facebook (2-3% on average) and Instagram (9% on average).

Likewise, choosing to create your own email newsletter or podcasts requires significant time. And it takes genuine patience and investment to build a following once you’ve created it.

We cannot try to steer around or away from these challenges. We have to steer into them. Doing so means accepting the need for three things:

One, more time and research into properly understanding who and where your audiences really are today. No corporate affairs team can possibly hope to spread its message across every potential outlet where an audience might be. Instead, we need much more focus on where people are most active.

Second, being prepared to invest money, not just time, in reaching them. Spend the money on the essentials of boosting content to get cut-through on platforms like social that require it (and don’t kid yourself that you don’t need to). And also go further by embarking on paid activities that enhance what you’re already doing elsewhere. Media partnerships, sponsored content, co-branded events, even traditional or programmatic display advertising.

And third, more time and effort on understanding if you’re moving the dial. Advertisers and planners have spent decades measuring the underlying efficacy of their work. We’ve too often hid behind outdated metrics that are not aligned to the business and focus on potential reach rather than tangible outcomes, whether that be in sales or perception change.

It used to be said that “advertising was cheating”. Paying for reach or to reach your goal was definitely looked down on when I began my career. It’s time to ditch that outdated attitude and embrace every form and channel of communication if we’re to succeed.

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