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earned media credibility, PESO model for public relationsNew research published by the Institute for Public Relations reveals insights into how consumers rate the credibility of earned media, advertising and other media sources.

Besides analyzing the credibility of earned media in mainstream news sources and traditional advertising, researchers also examined blogs and native advertising, a type of sponsored content designed to resemble a publisher’s editorial content in form and substance.

They studied responses from 1,500 participants who viewed examples of an earned news story, a newspaper advertisement, a native advertisement, a blog written by an independent source and a blog penned by a company. Researchers included Julie O’Neil, a professor at Texas Christina University; Marianne Eisenmann, a communications researcher at Syneos Health; and Maggie Holman, public information officer for the city of Pflugerville, Texas.

Some key findings include:

  • Participants rated the earned media story the most credible. When rating credibility, readers consider factors such the independence of the journalist, if the story’s coverage is balanced, credentials of the journalist and the prestige of the media outlet.
  • People generally consider blogs written by an independent blogger as credible. They consider the blogger’s writing, credentials, experience using the product and independence from the company manufacturing the product.
  • Participants perceived native advertisements as the least credible. They unanimously described the native ads as “sneaky,” “tricky,” and “disingenuous.” Some expressed frustration with differentiating between various sources of information, particularly the native advertisements. Suspicion of native advertising underscores the need for transparency and ethics related to sponsored content.
  • Negative comments or reviews enhance the authenticity of the story and improve credibility. That finding shows that PR pros need not worry about minor negative feedback on public forums.
  • Fewer participants viewed advertising as credible. Realizing ads may be biased, they seek to verify claims with outside information.

Value of the PESO Model

Because consumers consult multiple sources to verify claims about products, it’s especially effective to deliver product messages across paid, earned, shared and owned channels in what’s called the PESO model in order to achieve greater reach and multiple exposures.

Earned media is key. In addition to being credible, it is cost effective and can often be integrated with other channels. However, credibility isn’t the only factor to consider when developing PR and marketing campaigns.

“Public relations practitioners and academics should focus less on the perceived credibility superiority or effectiveness of one source compared to another and focus instead on integrating consistent messaging across a wide spectrum of sources for maximum effectiveness,” the researchers recommend.

PR and marketing gurus frequently recommend embracing different channels.

“When you bear in mind that 70% of consumers use three or more channels when researching a purchase, it’s a no-brainer to spread your campaign over several different platforms,” writes content marketing and SEO strategist Jose Angelo Gallegos in Social Media Today. “Plus, consumers expect you to be on multiple channels.”

Decades of research studies show that most consumers make purchase decisions only after multiple exposures to product messages.

PESO Blurring

Some PR veterans say the lines between earned, paid and owned media are blurring. PR campaigns are becoming interlocked with advertising efforts. Paid social media now sometimes amplifies earned and owned media placements. Those who integrate messages across various PESO platforms are more likely to succeed.

“PR pros who are laser-focused on earned media are digging their own grave,” warns Wendy Marx, owner of Marx Communications. “Start today (if you’re not already doing so) to widen your lens to encompass paid, owned and shared media.”

Bottom Line: Research shows consumers consider earned media more credible than advertising and other media sources. However, that doesn’t mean PR should pursue only earned media. Because consumers check multiple sources before purchasing a product, a multi-pronged strategy is the most effective.