Integrity Critical in Owned Media Era

John Roderick
John Roderick

PR teams are spending less time working directly with journalists and more time ghostwriting in various media formats, from corporate blogs to whitepapers to tweets. At my agency, which has always had a very content-centric approach to PR, we now spend anywhere from 65-75 percent of our time generating “owned media,” or content that originates in-house. We’re hardly alone.

The top five methods used most frequently by communications professionals right now are (in order of preference): creating content designed to be spread via social media; Twitter;production of online videos, Facebook; and print newspapers, according to the 2014 USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism Generally Accepted Practices survey.

Print magazines ranked seventh on the list, while TV and radio didn’t even crack the top 10. Depending where you sit in PR this trend is either a blessing or a curse. Those who just love smiling and dialing are increasingly going the way of the DVD player.

However, for those of us who enjoy crafting a narrative, engaging key constituencies and creating a sound bite that perfectly gets an idea across, there’s never been a better time to work in public relations.

Don’t get too excited. While many brands have invested heavily in owned-media, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns for PR teams looking to own the mantle of official corporate storytellers.

There is competition everywhere, from social media folks who believe they should own any content with a hashtag in it, to advertising agencies that think storytelling should fall under their domain.


But there is one area PR still owns undisputedly: trust. When earned, third-party media was the only game in town, trust was the difference between getting a front-page story and having a journalist hang up on you.

The lynchpin to earning that trust is hard data. You can’t call a journalist and spout off marketing pronouncements about your upcoming product launch. You have to prove it with numbers, testimonials and facts.

Taking the journalist out of the equation does not eliminate the need for this data; it makes it more pronounced. As brand-owned media continue to proliferate, there are fewer mediators between the message the brand wants to convey and the eventual output.

The onus is on PR execs to maintain the editorial filter that lets content produced by companies resonate and build trust with their intended audiences. As PR pros face this challenge, big data may be the most important weapon in the owned media war chest.


Judicious use of big data can supercharge PR campaigns. With the ability to inform infographics, power whitepapers and arm executives with endless sound bites, a single interesting data point can be sliced and diced for multiple audiences across several media platforms.

Take Dick’s Sporting GoodsJersey Report, which provides a detailed breakdown of football jersey sales across the sporting goods giant’s 558 stores. (Dick’s is not a client of mine.)

Searchable by team, overall rank, position and even player number over multiple-time intervals, the interactive site is a field day for football fanatics.

Sure, you can buy a jersey, but that’s not the point. By packaging Big Data in a clever way, the company has created an indelible association between the Dick’s brand and the sports people love. You don’t feel as if you’re being sold to, you’re part of a shared experience.


As a result of its slick, content-first approach, Dick’s also generates a great deal of good old-fashioned earned media from its Jersey Report, routinely getting cited by Business Insider, CBSSports and the SportingNews as the official source of football fan sentiment. Not bad positioning for a company that wants to own the U.S. sporting goods market.

As the transition toward developing owned media continues, consumers will place a higher premium on trusted content.

Just as luminary media brands like The New York Times and The Washington Post earned their reputations on the merits of their ability to separate fact from fluff, so, too, the brands that harness data to engage their audiences will set the bar for the age of owned media.


John Roderick is president of J. Roderick Inc. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter, @john_roderick and

This article originally appeared in the December 15, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.