What I am about to share isn’t the conventional wisdom most professionals would prescribe. It’s a media relations strategy aptly described as “walking to the beat of your own drum.” This may sound odd to you because most professionals would say earning mentions in stories that are occurring in the media right now holds tremendous value. And I agree with that, but what if your company isn’t mentioned in a story alongside a competitor? David Henderson, a veteran public relations agency executive and award-winning CBS News correspondent says, “Ignore what they are saying and how they are saying it.”

He tells us that by attempting to “copy or react to the featured organization, you have, by default, put yourself in second place and made yourself a ‘wannabe’ in the media’s eye.” If you could – but are not – being brought up in the same industry discussions that your competitors are, it’s likely you’re not influencing the media’s agenda.

The idea behind shaping the media’s agenda (better known as agenda-setting) is the notion of being original, creative and newsworthy. Together, these shape what’s called the “share of discussion” around your brand. Share of discussion is defined as “the measure of quantity and quality of earned media compared to an organization’s competitors.” However, dominating all of the discussion of an industry is a pipe dream at best. Instead, Henderson advises to chart new territory.

Before we dive into share of discussion, let’s understand agenda-setting, and it’s value to you.

What Is Agenda-Setting?

When media covers a story frequently and prominently, it’s regarded as important and, accordingly, the public’s perception of that media event follow suit. If a story about your organization is featured across different channels – such as Twitter, Facebook, Google + and in the blogosphere, in addition to television, radio and print – then your brand becomes top of mind and a topic of discussion.

To harness agenda-setting power we must understand the nature of news and human nature – even more so in the age of social media. More than anything else, interest in content is shaped by immediacy, situation and news value. When these three criteria are met, journalists and others are more likely to run with the content… and research supports this. Long ago, scholars found nearly half of news stories were substantially based on news releases and other direct information. These are important points to remember.

Top tier news media frequently exerts influence on other channels, such as social media. In the past, before these social channels, influence was one directional. For example, if the New York Times published a piece on its front page, other news organizations such as the Associated Press alerted its members. Like the Times, Reuters, United Press International and Agence France Presse have set the tone of news for over 100 years. Now organizations using social channels such as Twitter and Facebook can amplify mainstream news through retweets and shares. But organizations can do much more. By creating relevant content assets and working with influencers, such as the example we will soon examine with Larry Kim, company’s can drive the agenda. He writes in his blog, “About 50% of the over 10,000 press mentions we got were from international publications.”

The Larry Kim Effect

Larry Kim dominated the media when his company released a head-to-head analysis comparing ads on Facebook vs. the Google display network. Kim’s business is pay-per-click advertising, but heunderstood three things about his study, which we introduced earlier:

  • Immediacy: Releasing a new report as Facebook announced its IPO would place his study about the feature that monetizes the social platform in the foray.
  • Situation: The Facebook IPO would be big news and anything about Facebook would be top of mind.
  • News value: Releasing a study about the very feature that makes Facebook IPO worthy and comparing it to the Google’s advertising platform makes his study exponentially valuable because it compares the two largest digital assets on the planet.

The key was to give media professionals a hook and that was the advertising networks.

Additionally, Kim used content promotion across the company’s social channels to gain traction for stories by pitching journalists using Twitter, such as Dominic Rushe from the Guardian. His team also pitched influencers – non-journalism types who have clout because they are established thought leaders with large audiences. Rand Fishkin of Moz is one such person.

Momentum is very important to drive competitive voice, as Kim explains. With that in mind, it’s important to think about engaging the media through campaign cycles and developing follow-up stories, or as Kim put it, “long-form content” that continuously feeds media professionals different viewpoints.

How Agenda-Setting Feeds Share of Discussion

Remember share of discussion is based on quality and quantity, but the former wears the pants. As media attention focuses on the content your brand is creating, you’ll gain more of that share over time. The results of this classic study of a business-to-business software company, for example, are telling.

Leveraging Agenda-Setting to Earn Your Share of Discussion

As shared discussion increased, sales professionals were more likely to close deals three months after a media spike. The idea, however, is not to rise and fall in media attention, but to sustain an even share. In this instance, as in most, to leverage an agenda-setting strategy it’s important to understand where competitors have a stronghold, where they are weakest and to capitalize on that weak link with original, newsworthy content. This is what Henderson means by charting your own territory. Kim, on the other hand, added to news that was already occurring. He knew Facebook’s IPO announcement would be big news. Even bigger news for his niche would be the thing that makes Facebook a viable business – advertising. It’s clear Kim knew the IPO wasn’t news that would impact his company’s brand, but a side-by-side analysis of the two largest digital advertising platforms would make an impact. Moreover, the news was timely.

As you work with agencies and internal marketing teams, think about earned media in campaign cycles that revolve around major events and tie them to your industry and your brand. Make them immediate, situational and newsworthy. Find different angles that put your business at the epicenter. That’s what “being what people want to consume” means.