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How will you use the tips from this post?

I know that writing about the PESO model can seem a little retro. As useful as PESO is for marketing comms and PR professionals, it was coined in 2014 and you don’t see it mentioned as frequently any more, as maybe it’s just become part of the furniture now we’re all used to new media.

But during the pandemic, I’m more aware than ever of which brands are set up to use the model well. Those that haven’t integrated or invested in each area of the model may suddenly find themselves flat footed at a time when consumer behaviour is changing.

If you’re not familiar with the PESO model, it stands for paid, earned, shared and owned media – the model illustrates that each of these areas is merging to some extent and that where PR was once about earned media, it must now consider each of these four areas. You can read more about PESO via the model’s creator, Gini Dietrich. Though it was created to guide PR, it can be applied to marketing communications, too.

It’s easy to see how each area is changing in importance or usage, depending on which sector you work in.


For many brands, budgets are stretched, and even though everybody is telling you that in a downturn you should invest more in advertising to grow your share of voice on the cheap, that seems difficult if you no longer have any distribution. “You can’t spend your way out of this one,” as Martin Sorrell put it. Why would travel brands be spending millions on direct response advertising or digital brand advertising when almost nobody is buying?

And yet even in badly effected sectors, such as hospitality, there are still opportunities. As Owain Powell of UP Hotel Agency writes in an article about hotels for Econsultancy, “Booking intent may of course be low due to current domestic and international travel restrictions, however with little visibility of OTAs currently, this presents hotels with a strong opportunity to advertise at a lower cost, due to the bidding auction being less competitive.” These opportunities can include anything from 2021 wedding bookings to developing brand awareness and visibility of ‘book direct’ benefits.

For those still investing heavily in paid media for comms, strategy has inevitably shifted for many. Digital media consumption is up, brands are trying to display empathy, something that is harder to do in a paid medium, and may need to shift messaging to any support they are providing or to push people towards digital service channels. If customers are desperately seeking answers to particular questions, it may be that paid media is used not just for so-called ‘hero content’, but for ‘hub’ and ‘help’ style content, too (see Econsultancy’s Content Strategy Best Practice Guide for more on this model pioneered by YouTube).

Though trust in paid media is low, marketers and PRs also understand that their best shared, owned and earned media efforts can always be given a paid boost, particularly on social media. However, influencer partnerships have come in for scrutiny since lockdown. Patricio Robles writes in an article for Econsultancy, “at a minimum, brands should be very careful about influencer marketing campaigns that seem to pretend it’s business as usual, and about working with influencers who flout lockdowns and other health guidelines.” He adds that “depictions of over-the-top lifestyles — something influencers are known for — is worth avoiding. Instead, brands should embrace influencers who are not afraid to depict the situation honestly even if it’s not glamorous..”


As the news cycle became frantic in March, PR outreach started to feel a lot different. First of all, nobody cared about much other than the public health. Brands that took action quickly, such as LVMH manufacturing hand sanitiser, got great coverage.

Where earned and shared media cross over, brands are finding that their work with charities and more broadly in CSR are increasingly important for cut through on social media and in the press.

Earned media has always been good at providing benefit in the long-term, and some are even arguing that though long-term thinking seems impossible to some right now, the pandemic may be analogous to a war, in that afterwards we will remember and reward the companies that acted for the greater good.

Marketing surveys and consultants have been discussing the nature of brand purpose for a few years, with some commentators dismissing it as bunk. Suddenly, I’m not so sure. Nike seems to be inspiring people to achieve their goals through determination, but to do so indoors (Play at home, play for the world).


Social media engagement is up during lockdown, and it’s easy to see how socially savvy brands with a young target audience are better set up to take advantage. Boohoo is a great example of creativity with content which drives shared media that has helped them to impressive results in April. Just take a look at their #boohoointhehouse competition.

Another great lockdown example is in entertainment. Look at a show like Normal People and how massively it has benefited from shared media, with viewers discussing the drama online. This isn’t just useful promo, it demonstrates how and why the show is striking a chord with viewers and can fuel other forms of media, particularly earned, as well as feeding back into the BBC’s understanding of its audience.

More prosaically, when call centres are busy and customers frustrated, negative sentiment on social media may increase, and companies without well-drilled community management teams may suffer. It is also on social media where any brand hypocrisy will be exposed.


It’s fairly obvious that lots of business has moved online, and whether you’re a B2B company, a supermarket, a brand newly exploring direct-to-consumer, a bank, or a fitness instructor, your digital owned media is now even more important. It could be videos, apps, user generated content, or just a humble website with content design and information architecture that allows user to complete tasks quickly.

Informational content is in high demand (email open rates are up more more than conversions, for example) and it’s very difficult to quickly scale up your organisation’s ability to create excellent content and adapt it to multiple owned channels online, if you don’t have processes already in place. You may not have the infrastructure to ‘write once, publish everywhere’ or you may simply be lacking a good content arm to your marketing or ecommerce function.

Econsultancy’s Nikki Gilliland recently examined the email marketing of B&Q and Homebase, on the weekend before lockdown was eased for garden centres, and it’s clear B&Q was able to draw on lots of owned media. The DIY retailer had a newsletter full of links to ideas for outdoor projects, tasks for the kids, and inspiration for turning a garden into a ‘mini sanctuary’. Okay, so spring is always an important time for a garden centre, but B&Q truly understood how lockdown would influence spending, with copy on their website that urged customers to ‘create your own outdoor lounge’.

On a different scale entirely, I have written for Marketing Week about the effectiveness of Nike’s content strategy across its mobile apps (Nike Training Club, Running Club and its ecommerce app). The sports apparel brand made its training app free at the beginning of the pandemic, recognising an opportunity, and a constant stream of content to each of its apps draws consumers to inspirational content but also promotional messages. In China, Nike saw an 80% increase in Nike Training Club workouts in the latest quarter and CEO John Donahoe remarked during a post-earnings conference call: “The strong engagement of Chinese consumers with our activity apps translated to strong engagement with our Nike commerce app.” Digital business in China grew more than 30% during the quarter.

Clearly not every brand can invest the way Nike has, but Nike’s investment looks valuable in our current situation, with ecommerce thriving. The same can be seen amongst retailers who already had direct-to-consumer infrastructure in place, or amongst supermarkets who had robust delivery and click-and-collect services operational. Firms such as Heinz and Pepsico have brought forward their DTC efforts to capitalise as best they can.


You might accuse me of rambling, and that all this amounts to is “media and comms has changed since coronavirus”.

And yes, I suppose that’s it. But brands are having to be smart about how they use their paid media budget (spot the opportunities, audit their media buying, and change messaging strategy), there are suddenly more pitfalls in earned and shared media in a time of great strain when companies are furloughing workers, and owned media is really having to work at greater scale than ever before.

Marketers and PRs who understand the integrated PESO model, and know where their strengths and weaknesses lie in this framework, may just appear to have a little more foresight in this very difficult time.

The post As coronavirus crisis hits media, brands should reconsider the PESO model appeared first on Econsultancy.

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