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Powerful Pet Industry Communication: Solving the Mysteries of Earned Media Placement

By Robert Wheatley//January 1, 2024//

Powerful Pet Industry Communication: Solving the Mysteries of Earned Media Placement

By: Robert Wheatley//January 1, 2024//

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Editorial media coverage can make careers, break careers, send brand growth into the stratosphere or presage an impending tumble. It’s influence and gravitational power associated with the embedded credibility of reporting over promoting. We consume media for its story content, while ads circle the perimeter hoping to lasso attention with cleverness and entertainment. The world of paid media calf-roping its intended audience has altered dramatically in the digital age – as consumers successfully seek to avoid overt sales messaging and interruption.

Instead, consumers crave honesty, verification, validation and trust above all in their consumption of news and information about companies and brands. In a world rife with hyperbole, assertions, claims and boasts, consumers prefer the haven of unbiased assessment and evaluation from an outside third party over self-promotion.

  • Editorial media is such an important and strategic component of effective pet brand communication plans.


Yet all too often we find marketers are perplexed at the seeming mystery of how earned media attention functions and the proper path to achieving a good story in a realm that is not controlled or ‘ordered up from central casting’ like an ad. To be sure, there are rules to follow, conventions to observe and a fundamental agreement between all parties for truth and relevance. All grounded in a critical appreciation of which stories will effectively serve the need of any media brands’ primary audience of users.

Media serves its readership and viewership with the intention to observe, analyze and report on news about products and services it routinely covers. This critical “relevance-to-the-audience” analysis is vital for media relations planning, drilled all the way down to understanding the topic areas specific reporters and editors tend to specialize in over time.


Rules of the editorial road

The front door of any publicity planning begins with objective assessment of what the key stories will be, the ones that offer the potential for traction in editorial channels because the subject is truly newsworthy. Just because you can distribute a press release does not necessarily mean that you should. The actual purpose and role of a well-crafted press release is to create an invitation to a story. General rule: if it’s not news, consider an alternate route (brand created content, social channel) for dissemination.


Primacy of editorial sensibility

Reporters report and PR experts (should) work in service of that reporting by ferreting out the relevant information needed to evaluate the merits of a story, align and develop the material needed for reporting and secure access to prepared, credible sources who can be interviewed.

Editorial sensibility is founded on understanding and respect for the standards of journalistic reporting and what constitutes a relevant story vs. something that looks, walks and talks like shameless self- promotion.


Guidelines for editorial material

Here’s a quick sampling of areas where news can be unearthed and developed into stories, with consideration on the right channels and media properties where said news would fit with media audience needs and preferences.

  • Hard news: company announcements of new products, innovations, category creation, acquisitions, executive changes, new businesses, earnings reports.
  • Higher purpose: organizations that have a refined mission that steps beyond the fundamentals of commerce to address issues impacting the world around us. It can spark a treasure trove of story opportunities around conditions and developments related to that purpose, such as Dove brand’s lean into self-esteem or Patagonia’s sustainability mission.
  • Thought leadership: studies, research and reports on emerging technologies, trends and developments on cultural shifts, sea changes in consumer behavior and preferences, outlying topics such as sustainability and climate impacts.
  • Larger issues impacting society: how an organization works to help solve intractable challenges in diversity, poverty, food insecurity, disaster relief, disease, health, wellness, aging, child development, access to education and the like.


Mutual respect and relationship

“Feeding the monster,” as a dear friend of mine who was a former TV news reporter once said, is a prescient observation of what takes place day-in and day-out in media land: filling digital pages and air time with buckets of unfolding events, news of the day, investigative reports and longer form features that take audiences behind the scenes.

Our role in brand communications is to respect the editorial world’s movement, deadlines and evolving priorities on any given day. The goal is to earn a position over time as a respected, reliable source of well-researched, relevant story material served up in the right balance between internal messaging objectives and the exigencies of news reporting.

Reporters and editors should be looked upon as informed professionals to be served in the circle of outbound communication. Positive working relationships based on mutual respect deliver greater benefits over time than contentious, adversarial, or objectification both directions that sees the players as only a quick means to an end.

Nearly every business category has a circle of media and reporters who routinely report on events and developments in the business. These mutually beneficial relationships can be cultivated over time based on perceptions and reality of competence and content delivery on a consistent basis.


The benefits of earned media outcomes

Intrusive communication: Getting an audience to pay attention isn’t easy. Editorial owns the attention of its consumer. They are reading, watching, listening because they want to engage, learn and observe. Tuned in rather than tuned out. This means the message is going to land.

Respected and trusted: Despite what some surveys would have you believe that editorial isn’t trusted, by and large in the U.S., editorial media is looked upon favorably as an objective voice, save some politically driven channels that have a clear agenda and ax to grind. That means it is believe-able. We routinely assign credibility to what we see and hear in the context of an editorial report.

The benefit of reputation enhancement: Editorial coverage imbues the message with added credibility and meaning. We assign integrity to what’s presented because the journalistic reporting process involves evaluation and interview without overt control over the process and result. Influence on the path yes, control no.

Where trends and cultural shifts are born: There might be a certain herd mentality in editorial circles that tends to push a particular storyline across multiple media brands and channels. This is where trends begin to take root. We look to the media to flag what’s hot, up and coming, new and worthy of attention. If a trend is favorable to your business, editorial coverage is where to apply more work and effort.


The role of experience on this path

Like most things, time in the saddle in this arena yields the required level of sensitivity and understanding about what flies and dies in the arena of earned media. The more experience you have, the more likely your outbound strategies and day-to-day performance will hit the mark and produce a desired outcome for all involved.

Reporters can tell when they’re dealing with an experienced player. That learned ability to know how best to present a story idea to a reporter, in the right format, is critical to achieving results in a media environment where mutual best interest is served in a non-transactional setting.

Bottom line: editorial content is powerful but can only be wielded when the rules of engagement are understood and followed with skill and responsiveness. The old days of “spray and pray” built on the sheer massiveness of conventional mass media channels are now gone, replaced by a more nuanced, targeted and ultimately more productive relationship between a news organization and a solid, reliable source.


Robert Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Emergent can help pet brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity and deeper meaning in their pet parent relationships and brand communication.