Why should earned media be at the front and center of a brand’s PR strategy? Michael Rinaldo, President of Interdependence Public Relations, highlights earned media’s effectiveness to build credibility in front of a wide audience. Michael also dives into the interdependent relationship between PR professionals, reporters, and spokespeople as the media industry continues to evolve.
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HOST: DOUG SIMON
GUEST: MICHAEL RINALDO
DOUG: So, how can a company focus on putting earned media front and center?
MICHAEL: Well, I think it starts with where you put your priority. And we believe that earned media is still the foundation of all the work we do in this business. And it goes back to that old saying that what gets measured, gets done. So, from our perspective, it’s about having KPIs both for campaigns as well as for individuals. People have to know exactly what’s expected in terms of what we’re trying to accomplish from an earned media perspective. And we need to measure that again, not just for what we’re doing for individual clients, but how individual team members are performing from that standpoint as well. At the very least, that sets the parameters that this is important, it puts it front and center, the way we need it to be.
DOUG: You talk about the importance of an earned media focus. Is it also important to have that same voice, even for social media or other content that’s being bought so people will click on it, or read it, will listen to it, will watch it?
MICHAEL: Well, that’s actually what I mean when I talk about it being the foundation. I mean, I think it really still sets the agenda. Earned media really is what sets things in motion in the right direction. Influencers are important. Your digital presence, obviously critically important, what you do in the social media space. But I really believe, we believe really, that earned media piece is what gets things started, pushes things in the right direction, tells people what you stand for, and gives that kind of credibility you’re talking about, that’s why earned media has to be at the front of the game.
DOUG: Yeah, and now obviously you’re in a more diversified role, but you’ve come to this conversation with a tremendous history of success in healthcare communications. Is earned media also important in the healthcare industry?
MICHAEL: My experience in healthcare over the years has really helped me form a lot of my opinions. Actually, what drew me here to Interdependence because of the agency’s focus on earned media, because I’ve always believed that the most important voice we can have in the healthcare space, and I think it’s true across many, if not most industries, is that earned media credibility you gain. In fact, we talk about it all the time that having someone else carry your story, tell your story, people have credible voices, there’s a lot of power in that, and it’s absolutely essential still today, that third-party endorsement, if you will, still becomes critically important to be able to be successful in telling your own story.
DOUG: Yeah, along those lines, we recently surveyed 64 TV producers, stations on how they’re covering health. More than 90% of them are increasing the amount of health coverage, not surprising. It’s only about 50 to 50 about having more resources to do it. One of the things we found really interesting is the top ways they’re covering stories. 83% are doing it through satellite or Zoom interviews. 72% are sending out a reporter and a crew, and 54%, which is next, were taking network or syndicated feeds. How is that making you adjust what you’re advising clients and how you make sure they can cut through and get on the air?
MICHAEL: You need to make sure you’re constantly evolving with where the trends are headed toward in terms of what people for, I think that there have been a lot of changes in the way that journalists will consider stories, consider spokespeople, and a part of that is because of the changing landscape, of course, that has happened across society in general and also certainly within the journalistic world, but I think if you don’t listen to what a journalist is looking for, you’re going to be very unsuccessful in being able to place that story. So, you have to be able to adapt to that. I think the key is figuring out, okay, so conceptually somebody is willing to take a story in a certain direction or take an interview in a certain direction, but some of the same basic tenets still apply—the need for credibility, the need for knowledge, the need for relevance. We call ourselves interdependence, and there’s a reason for that. We believe it’s an Interdependent relationship between the interviewer or the journalist, if you will, and the spokesperson. You’ve got to be able to have people who can step up to the plate and perform within that kind of context to be successful still, no matter how things have shifted.
DOUG: Yeah, now you also have your own trademark approach to using data analytics to help get more coverage. I guess it’s called the Interviewed™. Can tell us a little bit about that and how it works?
MICHAEL: Sure, that’s a proprietary technology. Interviewed™ is developed by our agency, and it really is something that allows us to secure mainstream and industry media. It’s much faster and with much more consistency than what we’ve seen before. It uses AI and predictive analytics to get breakthrough solutions for our clients. Essentially, it finds traction validated stories–breaking stories, trending stories, things that are happening out there that are validated through traffic and allows our team to be able to see where those trends for a story are headed early in the game where they can start having an ability to have an impact on how that story plays out in the media. In fact, what we found is that once it finds a match, we go out to those reporters that make the most for that story, and what we find very often is that those reporters are often not even aware that the story is starting to move in that direction. So, for us it’s a chance to be that first in the game and offering up our resources, our client experts, and in the research that they have, and we do that through obviously the same kind of way you always do, you take that information, you build a strategic pitch, go out to the right reporter. We have a huge database of journalists we have relationships with. And really what happens is and the reason it’s successful at the end of the day, we’re bringing stories to those reporters that are helping them do their jobs. And we know that today in newsrooms, reporters have more stories to have to create because there are more platforms, and there’s more pressure on them to do that. And they’re being measured in some of the same ways we’re all being measured—click-throughs and shares and those kinds of things. So, if you can bring the kind of story that we can show them that it’s going to be talked about because it’s already building interest, that helps them do their job in terms of delivering stories back out to their stakeholders as well that will be relevant to them. And what we found is that it helped us increase conversion rates, conversion rate levels by 300-400%, which is obviously been a tremendous value to our clients.
DOUG: Yeah, and another area that you’re ahead of the game is just with your use of the phrase client experts. What we’re seeing is a trend, and now 92% of TV producers we surveyed are open to interviewing client spokespeople instead of third-party experts. In fact, they preferred the client’s spokespeople by a margin more than 70% to 30%. So, it’s a huge change, and corporate communicators are getting that message. They have a preference of having their own spokespeople out there. One, they know more depth about the story. Two, they are already paid, so you’re not paying them extra, and you don’t have as much of a fear that someone will ask something that they have no clue, and they just completely go off the range and try to answer. Are you seeing that yourself that it’s your clients who want to get their spokespeople out there?
MICHAEL: Journalists have realized that it’s not necessarily about the fact that someone with a specific interest may be participating in that interview. It’s about the transparency of that interaction. So, as long as it’s clear that this is a company’s first spokesperson, someone being paid by the company, I think there’s that there’s an understanding that people today are able to understand that context and sort through it and figure out what they want to get away from the interview. And if you look if you’re a credible person, a knowledgeable person, somebody who can speak at the level that matters to the stakeholder you’re trying to reach. And again, somebody respects that role between the journalist and the client spokesperson, I think it can still work tremendously well. Being in healthcare, it’s something we’ve seen for some time. When I first got in the business, forever, we’ve always worked with doctor spokespeople, of course, since doctors are the experts, and they get to communicate a great message. And in the early days I did this, there’s typically not a mention of the fact that that doctor was partnering with a company to actually tell that story. Well, and that changed a couple of decades ago. And we’ve always been in the position of being very transparent about the fact that a doctor is partnering with a company to tell it. So, it’s just an evolution, frankly, from my perspective. It’s an evolution I’ve seen now that has broken through into the boardroom, and I think it makes a lot of sense. I’ve always believed that people inside companies have a lot of great information to share. Sometimes I was being discounted simply because of their position, which didn’t make a lot of sense to me.
DOUG: Great. Well, no one will be discounting the great advice you shared. Thanks so much for participating. Really appreciate it.
MICHAEL: I appreciate the opportunity. Always good to talk to you, Doug.