Business is fundamentally about numbers. Whether you work in a consumer or corporate sector, your ability to keep a roof over your head is completely reliant on people within your organisation keeping some numbers big and other numbers very small. So it’s hardly surprising that as online marketing matures, large corporations are increasingly looking to evaluate and justify their outlay with consistent and measureable numbers.
Only don’t be fooled – quite often these numbers are junk. For all its pretensions of respectability and sophistication, much of the digital world remains a lawless dessert populated by thieves, click-farms, knaves and spambots.
Traditionally, many in the marketing industry have been more than willing to take the data their given at face value, either through naïve faith or their unwillingness to upset the apple-cart. However, with the growth of programmatic buying, large corporations are increasingly reviewing their investment and calculating exactly how much quality attention their media buying strategy is getting them. It turns out the answer is “not very much”.
Earlier this week, online super-spender Kraft announced that it rejected “up to 85%” of all impressions offered via real-time ad marketplaces. Or, to put it another way, as little as 15% of Kraft’s online media spend can be said to be reaching the people it’s supposed to.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times revealed earlier this year that an online campaign for car manufacturer Mercedes had been seen by more robots than humans. Given that brands are allocating increasingly sizeable budgets to programmatic ads, this is of course hugely troubling for any company not wanting to shovel vast quantities of its cash into the ether.
Whilst the PR industry should be hesitant to crow from the sidelines, this does highlight one key advantage that PR has over its advertising and media-buying brethren. It’s now widely-accepted that the only way to ensure your content is seen by a large number of people is to spend a large amount of money on media for it (as anyone who’s ever tried to make a “viral video” without spending vast sums on seeding can tell you).
However, Kraft’s experience shows that even with a sizeable digital media budget at your disposal, it’s still very difficult to ensure that your content is seen by the right people.
Conversely, PR is uniquely placed to argue it puts content in places people trust. Rather than simply paying to have an eyeball-for-an-eyeball’s sake, experienced PRs can design content to make sure it appeals to target media, and use long-held relationships to place it prominently in the right titles.
After all, if your video is autoplaying below-the-fold on a content scraping spam site, it’s fairly unlikely your target consumer is paying much attention. Alternatively, if it’s front-and-centre on the Mail Online, your consumer is quite likely to be watching.
This is not to say that the PR industry should be blindly optimistic about its role in the digital media landscape – it still has to solve its perennial issues with evaluation and its ability to deliver the numbers that client bean-counters need (perhaps achieved through developing closer relationships with online publishers themselves). However, PR is well placed to argue for a bigger slice of the media pie to ensure content is at the centre - and not the periphery- of consumers’ attention.
Alex Wilson is an account executive at Hill+Knowlton Strategies London.