Special Olympics Stories Continue to Boost Morale Internally and Externally Through Strategic Messaging and Brand Placement

Jason Teitler, Special Olympics Senior Vice-President of Global Communications and Brand explains the many benefits of earned media even during a changed media landscape caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two swimmers—post race—being interviewed by the press by the swimming pool.
(L) Andrzej Motyka and (R) Sebastian Wilman of Special Olympics Poland athletes during an interview after a 25 meters backstroke swimming competition.

The following article titled “Advice for communications practitioners sourcing media placements,” was first published by The Drum, an online marking magazine.

For many in the communications and marketing fields, along with their colleagues and partners around them, the value of media relations means one thing—coverage secured through an earned media campaign, a product or service announcement, or a thought leadership initiative. Much like advertising space, there is no foolproof tool available to conclude exactly how many people have read a story, viewed a television placement, or listened to a radio hit to determine return on the investment by securing the coverage, including budget and resources, to meet public relations objectives.

Distractions such as mobile devices and their stream of text messages, or in-person conversations on the living room couch can steal attention away from a placement, a factor which makes definitive measurement even more challenging, leaving the placement theoretically unnoticeable. Conversely, should earned media coverage be a campaign’s endgame? Certainly not!

A well-thought out earned strategy is designed to secure media placements so other critical business functions have the weapons they need to make substantial progress against their objectives. It’s what executives do, or don’t do, once a placement is in-hand that’s most significant to an organization, whether they realize it or not.

Today, as many brands are struggling to navigate an unparalleled media and economic environment—the consequences of a global pandemic—brands are even more stressed to retain the loyalty and the attention of audiences. The extra advantage of a compelling earned media placement may be one of the world’s most cost-efficient sales and relationship-building tools as well as one of the most underappreciated instruments.

In a 2018 study produced by Forrester for Cision called “The Forrester Opportunity Snapshot,” 151 U.S. marketers, director level and above, were surveyed. In the survey, 77% of marketers said their organization uses earned media to build and/or sustain brand awareness, 73% said it’s used to create competitive advantages and to build and/or sustain customer loyalty, and 70% said it’s used to promote company values.

Pound for pound, an earned media effort is considerably more cost-efficient than paid media, tells a more thorough brand story, and can be a substantially more convincing internal and external sales and communications advantage. Plus, a third party sharing a brand’s narrative often has credibility built-in, which during this climate of extreme skepticism, is desperately coveted by many vulnerable organizations. At Special Olympics, we recognize the power of the placement, and we’re not alone.

Multinational brand Experian is an example of an organization that values earned media in a variety of business-building initiatives.

“In this world of integrated communications, the earned media placement matters tremendously. While we look to surround audiences with our story through multiple channels, our executives thoroughly believe an influential media hit makes a difference in driving our business agenda. But the placement is only one step, albeit an important one with third-party credibility. It is then on us to take that story and ensure we share it in ways that contribute to the ROI for our media efforts.”
Gerry Tschopp, Experian Senior Vice President and Head of Global External Communications

There are countless methods brands can adopt to make the journey towards an indispensable placement triumphant and have a valuable direct and indirect impact to a company’s bottom-line.

Improving employee morale

At Special Olympics, the impact of a positive story, through a credible media outlet, is a prized component of our internal communications program, especially if it spotlights our athletes in a leadership role or one of our programming units—Sport, Health, or Education—in a progressive position. Few achievements get staff to rally behind an organization and campaign like witnessing their efforts in action and being appreciated by others. Within a brand’s infrastructure, the human resources and communications departments must combine efforts to unearth additional value through distribution of an email, blog, newsletter, intranet, or another far-reaching internal comms channel.

In October 2019, Experian began a pilot employee engagement campaign, where employees were asked to share consumer education content, Experian culture stories, and Experian media coverage with their social networks. Experian found its employees actively shared media stories focused on how the company helps consumers in credit education and drive an inclusive culture—generating an additional three million impressions and nearly 20,000 engagements.

Attracting partners

In this COVID-19 environment, it has never been more difficult for brands to explore and secure new business partners. Executive teams across the world are navigating pandemic-related issues nearly every day and many of them come with unexpected twists and turns leading to damage to the bottom line. Challenges companies face ranging from adjusting to and maximizing remote employee performance to the dilemma of establishing timeframes to open and reactivate offices and conventional business practices. These take priority and leave little flexibility to hunt and establish collaboration with a new partner, especially since all other brands are struggling through the same obstacles. Leaders at target partners seek perspectives, insights and like-minded executives, and strong media coverage highlighting these attributes can place a company in an advantageous position. This may pique the interest of such brands enough to help a company fight through the noise in hopes of establishing productive alliances.

Extending media opportunities

Well-rounded placements with distinct messages, which not only champion a specific point of view but also provide valuable tips and techniques for consumers, the corporate community, or other stakeholders, particularly during this current pandemic, can deliver many benefits. The Special Olympics movement is constantly challenging itself to extract additional mileage from critical placements, including sharing with our millions of athletes, Unified partners, coaches, volunteers, and supporters across the world.

Furthermore the Special Olympics Development team counts on the many earned media placements as an inexpensive mechanism for shedding light on serious issues individuals with intellectual disabilities face. This includes sharing and magnifying athlete achievements and struggles, and spotlighting resources required to advance the fight for inclusion globally. In an effort to seek and procure fresh sources of funding, evidence of a trustworthy third party deeming it worthy enough to cover the financial need is always a benefit, unlike a paid asset such as a print ad or 30-second spot.

Social media fodder

The seemingly infinite digital resources available today provide organizations with opportunities to extend the reach and impact of a media placement, enabling a brand to efficiently influence additional audiences. This includes elevating a local earned media victory across the world. From expanded thought leadership featuring quotes from the placement or the full story on LinkedIn to the extensive video capacities of Instagram, there are multiple ways for a brand to surround current audiences and reach elusive targets, previously unaware of a brand’s mission.

At Special Olympics, it is common practice to celebrate coverage through social media to reach audiences currently engaged in the movement as well as convert audiences into loyal supporters and champions of the ’Inclusion Revolution’.

While much of this seems logical, earned media placement ’follow through’ is more the exception than the rule. All too often, a strong media placement is circulated internally or embedded into a monthly report which will rest in cobwebbed email folders of company leaders—leading to the atrophy of a valuable asset and complete disregard for the hard work and resources of the communications team.

The power of the placement varies from company to company but ultimately, it rests in the vision and capabilities of a brand’s comms team. Boldness in educating other departments of an enterprise is essential to educate and arm associates and to unlock the power of the placement.

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