How an earned-first approach creates impactful integrated marketing in time of crisis

How brands can engage with the news agenda and connect with earned media authentically

Gina Mossey, Allison + Partners

Vice President, Integrated Marketing


Two years into COVID-19, on a global scale, we are truly tired of everything being “unprecedented.” The daughter of our CEO, Scott Allison, works as a news anchor, and I think speaks for us all in saying she cannot wait to finally be given some news that is “precedented.”

The news cycle has remained an overwhelmingly busy one throughout this time as we contend with so much political and social tension alongside the ongoing pandemic. Brands need to be more sympathetic and smarter than ever in their storytelling to capture even a tiny share of consumer hearts and minds.

At A+P, although our work spans integrated paid, earned, shared and owned campaigns, we strongly believe in an earned-first approach to brand storytelling. Having started my career in consumer PR, the principles I learned when writing my first press releases and media pitches are still etched in my mind on the daily as I develop brand and content strategies for clients now. Here’s why three key principles for this framework are particularly important during times of crisis, and how you can apply them.

Look at your brand as though you were an investigative journalist

Although in-person events are very much back on the agenda this year, we are still overloaded with digital content on a daily basis, with 2022’s UK online display advertising spend set to increase another 9% on 2021’s figure. Brands are investing in digital for the long haul; Deloitte’s study found 75% of global executives will invest more in hybrid physical-digital experiences over the next 12 months.

When creating integrated stories to help us cut through the online noise and stand out, applying the journalistic principles of earned media are invaluable in helping build an authentic, differentiated and memorable narrative.

Journalists can smell bullsh*t a mile off. They’re able to do this intrinsically through questions they ask on hearing from a PR. Have I seen this before from another brand? Can I see evidence this company is making a long-term commitment to this cause or is it a one-off? Does this spokesperson really have the expertise to be saying what they’re saying?

These are the questions you need to ask yourselves and your agency partners when working on key messaging and content angles to gauge whether your storytelling is watertight, and has the power to make your audience sit up and listen.

In the past two years, the number of people who expect brands to create stability rose by 30%. Yet, the same study found 52% believe brands that take stances on societal issues are just trying to drive sales

Gina Mossey, Vice President, Integrated Marketing, Allison + Partners

Trust and transparency are non-negotiable

Consumers have a lot of reasons not to trust the messages they hear during these uncertain times. In fact, a recent global study found the expectations of brands to deliver on bold, brave action are at an all-time high.  In the past two years, the number of people who expect brands to create stability rose by 30%. Yet, the same study found 52% believe brands that take stances on societal issues are just trying to drive sales. So how are you going to earn that trust long-term? How are you going to deliver audiences the believable and inspiring message they need, where and when they need it?

Respected journalists and publishers will only feature trustworthy brands and spokespeople, so it’s important to assess yours through the same rigorous review as they would. For example, if you are creating a diversity, equity and inclusion initiative, have you audited all previous company practices, public profiles of your spokespeople and supply chain diversity, to name a few? When you do, you may not find a straight A report card, but you can then come from a place of honesty and work to acknowledge changes made and commitment to evolution within your integrated comms going forward.

Similarly, earned media PR pros will all tell you that when companies are hit with a challenge, be it delays in production through supply chain challenges or an ill-advised spokesperson comment, acting proactively and transparently will help you infinitely in the long run. Consumers expect and value being able to voice their opinions to brands now more than ever before. Best-in-class brands plan for this across all integrated channels their audiences choose to communicate through, from strong two-way customer service engagement on social media, responding to reviews on Amazon or featuring leadership executives in “ask me anything” discussion content.

Think in headlines

While most of us will admit to being physically time-poor while juggling the demands of our work, family and social lives, brands also need to acknowledge that we are psychologically time-poor in terms of our attention span. Consistent exposure to negative news and uncertainty about our futures, plus increased screen time, naturally changes the amount we’re able to take in, as shown by a recent Leeds University study.

One of the first things you learn when planning to gain earned media coverage is to think in headlines, whether you’re building a data story or planning a stunt. Your approach to paid, owned and shared content should be no different, even though you don’t have to get your story through a journalist first before it can go live. If you can’t summarise the brand purpose or the content angle in less than 10 words, you risk losing your audience at the first hurdle. A useful exercise we use in narrative workshops is for everyone to start by writing their dream headline for the brand or campaign. Once you have this, it’s easier to plan the initiatives, data, spokespeople and PESO execution you need to be able to achieve it.

As many marketers look to marry agility, data and creative to form intelligent campaigns, an earned-first approach and involvement of specialists in the field are crucial in bringing those insights from the media relations front line and that important journalistic eye. Our best integrated creative ideas are always those thought up by cross-channel teams, with diverse cultural backgrounds and experiences. 2022’s consumer expects nothing less.

Guest Author

Gina Mossey, Allison + Partners

Vice President, Integrated Marketing


Gina leads Allison+Partners’ Integrated Marketing team in Europe, with 10+ years’ experience delivering outstanding integrated campaigns across a variety of sectors including consumer tech, B2B tech, retail, toys and games, finance and healthcare. Gina specialises in brand strategy and storytelling, content strategy + content marketing, integrated go-to-market planning and social media + influencer marketing. Career highlights include numerous awards such as Masters of Marketing, Holmes Report and Digital Impact among others. Alongside her day-to-day role helping clients create showstopping stories and compelling content, she also sits on A+P’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, leading on UK partnerships with universities, colleges and NGOs.

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