"For social media success you need paid media, you can’t just rely on virality. Don’t do anything in digital if you’re not going to support it with paid media." - Sonia Carter, head of digital and social media for Europe at Mondelēz International
Strong words indeed. Sonia Carter made the statement earlier this week at Bite's #empty13 event, which focused specifically on content creation (as opposed to 'content pollution'). Carter was describing how Mondelez saved the Cadbury Creme Egg from lasting irrelevance. A Facebook-inspired content programme led the turnaround strategy for the iconic brand, resulting in sales increasing by 9% in 2013, after declining by more than a third between 2010 and 2012. Carter is a marketer, so the idea of using paid media is probably just business as usual. It needs to be for the PR industry too. The Cadbury Creme Egg campaign had plenty of great content that successfully tapped into the news agenda (in much the same way that its sibling brand Oreo did to such memorable effect during this year's Superbowl blackout.) But it would not have been anywhere near as successful if the company, along with its agencies, had not paid to promote its posts within the Facebook news feed. Carter calls the approach 'storytelling at scale'. Obviously, the content itself had to work. It had to, as Bite's Jon Silk notes, "blend in" with the usual stuff you see in your Facebook stream. There is no doubt that the Creme Egg brand, with its saucy 'Have a Fling' positioning', could do this much more easily than, for example, a B2B player. By making the content relevant and then spending wisely on paid media, Cadbury was finally able to boost engagement with the critical 16-24 year-old audience. Rob Newlan, who is Facebook's global head of creative solutions, probably has a vested interest, but the point he makes remains compelling. Organic content — essentially relying earned media — is only useful for interacting with existing Facebook fans rather than influencing a broader group. "You have to pay to reach loads of the right people." In our content marketing feature earlier this year, we found that the use of paid media is reshaping traditional public relations activity, with several firms hiring talent to support the trend. Yet, speaking at #empty13, Telefonica Digital media relations director Nick Wilkins admitted that PR people often see paid techniques as somehow being less pure than a classic earned media programme. They shouldn't do. If the PR industry is serious about developing great content, then it needs to be equally serious about ensuring that content is seen by the right people. The two things go hand in hand, particularly when media placement decisions have to be made in a rapid, realtime environment. Yet those decisions also require judgement beyond the typical advertising metrics of cost and reach, to ensure that  the content favours quality over quantity; is relevant rather than polluting. Cadbury got it right with its Creme Egg campaign, but many more brands are getting it wrong. It is an opportunity that the PR industry can and should capitalise on.