Using Earned Media as a Source of Content Marketing

Episode 46

August 13, 2019

David Ward, Director of Public Affairs at the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, brings his public relations perspective to The Kula Ring, sharing insights on how manufacturing marketers can use earned media as a source of content marketing, the importance of internal communications, and how virtual reality (VR) is being used in marketing and public affairs.

Using Earned Media as a Source of Content Marketing Transcript:

Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White.

Jeff White: Welcome to The Kula Ring. My name is Jeff White, and joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, what’s going on?

Carman Pirie: Well, I’m recording a podcast with you, Jeff, with some of our …

Jeff White: Yes. Yes.

Carman Pirie: I think it’s going to be a fun one today. We’ve approached the world of manufacturing marketing largely from the marketing, and sometimes sales angle, but the world of communications is broader than that and I think today’s guest is going to help bring that into some perspective.

Jeff White: No. I think it should be interesting and a good conversation. Joining us today is David Ward. David is the Director of Public Affairs at the Association of Equipment Manufacturers. David, welcome to The Kula Ring.

David Ward: Hey, great to be here. Thanks for having me. Excited to have the conversation today.

Carman Pirie: David, it’s like a little bit of old home week for me. I’m an old PR hack and I used to work in politics, and did government relations for a while. But all from a purely Canadian perspective. …

Jeff White: Say sorry a lot?

Carman Pirie: Well, yeah. It’s probably a little bush leagues probably compared to like to what’s going on down in the US, but nevertheless, it’s great to be chatting with you.

David, I wonder if you could maybe just start by giving our listeners a bit of texture around your role with the association a little bit more about what you do and what the association is about?

David Ward: Sure thing. Here in DC at the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, my role is to really act as the communications lead on everything advocacy related for our industry in our association here, we’re acting as the voice of equipment manufacturers, which are a thousand member companies, just a little over that, I believe. Most of these companies are coming from a global perspective with headquarters outside of North America. But then they have, of course, their North American operations, and what we’re trying to do is just get the best possible outcome for them from the advocacy perspective here in DC. I do work with a much larger team back in our headquarters, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Our Association is over 125 years old. We’ve been around, but my role, working closely with our headquarters and others there. Again, here just trying to get the best possible outcome from an advocacy perspective here in DC, our nation’s capital. 

Carman Pirie: Very cool. I think David, this makes you a very unique guest on The Kula Ring coming at it from this perspective. And in our lead up to discussion today, you talked a lot about a bit of a communications first approach to marketing or more of a bring a communications point of view or a lens to the world of marketing at large, and I just wonder if you could go into some detail on that for us?

David Ward: Sure. Coming at it from a perspective where I guess with the experiences that I’ve had and education, I have a couple graduate degrees, one more research driven, one more applied, both between those and then my experience while working with GE in oil and gas business. It’s developed this perspective of having a 360-degree communications perspective for any sort of project I work on here or elsewhere is starting first with who is your target audience? Maybe who is your secondary target audience? Think about all the different ways that I can engage with them in a holistic way, whether it’s doing social media, and digital media, earned, paid marketing, or even considering the fact that you have to pay attention to what you’re doing internally, and collaborating with others internally and leveraging what others are doing within your organization that would provide you with your best possible way to reach those target audiences that you may not even be aware of if you were working in the silo. 

For communications perspective, that 360 communications perspective is just trying to consider all your different options, all different avenues, and not leaving anything unturned. It’s not throwing the kitchen sink at it, it’s just thinking it through from a strategic perspective, holistic perspective communications wise, and going in at that way.

Carman Pirie: David, there were a few things in there that I just wanted to go further on. One that occurs to me, I guess maybe it’s because I cut my teeth a bit in on the more PR side as well, but I feel like a lot of people don’t get enough out of their earned media strategy or maybe consider how important that could be to their overall mix. Does that resonate at all with you? It seems to me sometimes marketers are thinking about how to go, and pay to get their message out there, and maybe they missed some opportunities on the way. 

David Ward: Yeah. I would say marketers collaborating with their earned media colleagues is great, almost free avenue for great marketing outcomes. If you get a really great story and a syndicated outlet that gets it to a wider audience or just the outlet that is most read to executives or other decision makers in the industry, that’s sort of gold right there, and these days I would still stress that good relationship building with key reporters covering your industry, or interested in your industry, in a way, it does a lot of the work for you and it’s something that I would personally still say is important, if you think through in a smart way in collaboration again with your earned media team. Paid, I definitely understand the importance of paid, and how targeted it can be, but the earned side, if done the right way, is a great, almost free way to get the message out there, engaged with the audience you want.

Carman Pirie: Is getting earned media getting easier or harder?

David Ward: I think it’s getting easier, and harder at the same time for different reasons, but I think if you reproach it the right way, for me at least, it works and it’s not getting harder if you do the right things and in getting in front of the right reporters early on, getting to them before they come to you for a story, getting them to get a better understanding, getting them into the field in your industry. We have obviously a lot of factories and facilities across the country. A lot of reporters that I deal with, they love getting into the field. That’s just the most important thing. They want to be able to feel, understand their story, right? And talk to people firsthand. You can’t pick up the phone, and pitch them and expect the same sort of outcome as you would if you immerse them in that story, and you do that way before they’re even considering writing the story. I think if done the right way, all that, it’s not easy to do, but if it’s done the right way, you don’t make it harder on yourself unnecessarily. 

Jeff White: Of course, it doesn’t hurt if you get to take the reporters out, throw them in a skid steer and they can drive it around. 

David Ward: Exactly.

Jeff White: First hand knowledge, there’s a lot to be said to that.

Carman Pirie: Yeah. Of course, beyond that, it points the way for, I think, content creation too. I wonder how many marketers are truly thinking of the earned media target audience when they’re thinking about …

David Ward: Yeah. I would agree with that. They are creating the content for you. It’s almost like if you have a good relationship and a good trust there, they have shops. A lot of Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, they have their own internal content development shops, Washington Post that can really do a good job telling the story especially if you feel like most of your budgets are dedicated to paid or if you want to stretch it a bit further. They can do a lot of the work for you. I would say other than that, there’s others I’ve seen done who do hire former journalists that bring those practices in house in a way, perhaps not officially full-time employees but consultants or contractors.

Then, trained journalists can do a really good job of that content development for you, whether you’re having to pitch them and earn their work through traditional earned media practices or I think I’ve seen others do a pretty good job. ABB, I think was one technology down North Carolina that they’ve had folks do it for them, and do a really great job of telling their story through a good content development practice. Yeah.

Jeff White: We hear so much these days within the media, a lot of reporters and journalists are being laid off or becoming freelance. Do you find that now that there probably are so many ex-journalists in the mix from a marketing and content creation perspective that it actually makes your job easier because they know how to work with you? 

David Ward: Yeah, I would say so. Yeah. I would definitely agree with that. They know how to work with us. They know what readers like generally, and there’s a certain formula to that. With that said, I guess just like anything else, and I think our marketing team within our association is really good. I’ve been in the inner workings of the new Washington Post, which I look at every single day across the street here in DC, or at the NPR office just on the street. Their content gets seen because they pay attention to their metrics, and our marketing team does that too really well, and if you develop good content but if you’re not quite sure, you have to be able to pay attention if it’s getting clicked on, if it’s getting read, and then develop content that’s similar to that recycled success in a way. I would agree with that, but I think it’s just to really feel like you are informed, and pay attention to your metrics, pay attention to your open rates, your click through rates and things like that to understand what your audience is wanting to …

Carman Pirie: It’s a fair point. Well, also another item that you mentioned in thinking about this 360-degree approach was an emphasis on internal communications that I don’t know that we’ve brought to the show before. David, I’d like to hear more about your experience there, and what you’ve seen from folks that are doing it well. It seems to me that there’s something to this if you want to do communications well outside, it maybe starts inside. 

David Ward: Yeah. That’s another thing at my Georgetown program, and then even at GE was this idea that paying attention to what you do with internal communications, and everything from your executive leadership on down to your workers is fostering this sense of a culture, of open communication, and thinking on projects that pulls in different inputs from different places that you may not otherwise get from a highly structured top down approach. One person, Rebecca Laura Edwards or Becky Edwards, she worked at GE. She was the person that I know went on to work at the Olympics. Now, she’s with Schneider Electric, and she was a global communications officer that really stressed the internal communications side. I’ve seen others like Doosan Bobcat, North American Headquarters and North Dakota, do the same sort of thing where they really … Just even on the day to day level, and the meeting spaces they have, and just the office environment and how their facilities are set up are really stressing the idea of not really overly investing in one perspective, especially from a top down perspective, but trying to get a really well-rounded input from everyone involved in the production of a product, of a piece of equipment, and understanding how they can make it better. 

The comms marketing team is a part of that discussion on what’s making sense. At the end of the day, you come up with a better product and the marketing team is, by being immersed with that, I think in the communications team, being immersed with that, they’ve been informed of what they’re trying to sell, and what they were trying to speak to. I think it’s perhaps something that’s undervalued traditionally, not just on the comms side, but perhaps I would think possibly as well in the marketing side is just trying to leverage our resources, trying to get all the different viewpoints internally. I think once you go external, it makes your job a lot easier. 

Carman Pirie: I think it can sometimes be a frustrating if folks … It seems sometimes that you bring two or more people together and ask them what their problem is? It’ll basically come down to communication.

David Ward: Exactly. Exactly.

Carman Pirie: Right? Be it a marital situation, coworkers or an entire organization. That can obviously be daunting, but it’s always nice to hear stories of organizations that are doing it well. It seems like Bobcat has done things even just within their workspace to help foster this attitude more broadly. 

David Ward: Yeah. No, I couldn’t agree more. I would say if you’re thinking of a next interview, who to go to, I can connect you with them, but just in general, Doosan was a great example. So far, my year plus here within the equipment manufacturing industry of folks who really pay attention to that sort of detail. Communications, sometimes for us, I think we have to think of ourselves as not just communications but just collaboration officers, and that’s what I try to do every day. That’s what I think I have seen others do in our industry do well. 

Jeff White: The Kula Ring is proud to be a media sponsor of the 2019 ManufacturED Summit conference, which is being held September 16th to 18th in Chicago, Illinois. Carman and I will be live on site recording interviews for future episodes of the Kula Ring. You could save $200 now with the discount code, kulapartners200 at Thatʼs

Carman Pirie: David, I wonder if we might turn our attention a bit to just how your craft is changing as the world changes around us? I get a sense that clearly, you have a focus on content creation and things of that sort within your role that … I guess I’d like to unpack that a bit and understand more of the changes that you’re seeing?

David Ward: Yeah. I guess specifically for me and the advocacy world here in DC, communications, there’s a lot of transformation when it comes to things of course, like digital media and social media, and even that has changed. It feels like in some ways, so much in the last, not just the last 10 years, in the last two years or one year. Of course, every year it’s changing dramatically, and still provides a lot of opportunities. But unless you’re an industry like, I don’t know, renewable energy industry that I was a part of recently. If you’re not a naturally google-able … Is that even a word? Yeah. I worked for wind energy, and I felt like everything that we … A lot of things we did on social was just … It blew up a lot of times because people, Americans were so curious about it. 

But for a non-sexy industry, it’s harder to break out—especially on social media—outside of your just most passionate, interested audiences, and you have to do a lot of paid and that can be costly. You can do it in the right way, right? Do targeted stuff and everything, but still spending a bit more money to get into that social media to channel other things like thought leadership work and LinkedIn. That’s a good avenue. But other things that I think more cutting edge perhaps, especially here in DC when it comes to advocacy is using, and integrating virtual reality technology to bring what you want to show, and tell policymakers and your staff and others what your industry is capable of? What is going to be impacted in what way? 

Perhaps, we can bring a VR set of goggles or a few of them to the offices of the Capitol Hill, but it’s a lot harder to set up a demonstration of a field being turned over by a front loader excavators or something like that on the National Mall. You can’t quite do that without going through a crazy amount of permits or I imagine stuff like that. It’s not even possible, but the VR side of things, you can know … A lot of what I think people talk about it as interactivity. Right? It allows you to do that two way symmetrical communication. Not a one way street sort of deal, and the VR thing helps you really immerse people that way and doing more of those types of things is really going to be really helpful for us, I think.

Carman Pirie: I love that. It’s so funny because sometimes it seems like the promise of VR was kind of never quite lived up to the height for the longest time. It was just so refreshing to see it being applied and used so practically.

Jeff White: Yeah. In the business environment

Carman Pirie: Frankly, they help drive better policy decisions. I guess when did you start seeing that on the hill and would you say it’s really just become a very commonplace thing now? 

David Ward: I’m hearing more people or organizations successfully pulling those types of things off. I think part of it of course, I think is just the cost has come down and to develop the content and to use the sort of hardware, but only a few that I’ve heard have been successful, a lot of talk about it, and they want to do it, but then they just haven’t implemented. I think it’s still emerging in a way. It’s not commonplace, so it’s definitely become a more realistic option that people are starting to do it more and more here. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. That’s an asset that could be leveraged well beyond the advocacy side of things. Of course, for a marketing organization to invest in that, to be used potentially for earned media, media relations, advocacy work, but also for …

Jeff White: Trade shows.

Carman Pirie: Yeah. It’s interesting to imagine kind of …

David Ward: At GE, I know at our booth at trade shows, and that was always the most popular thing. I think obviously marketing the folks at places like GE, they’ve been deploying VR for longer than what we’ve seen from the advocacy side the last two or three or more years probably for sure, but even in the trade shows, I was with the oil and gas business, GE, or here in our industry and even with wind before, not a lot of people are doing that. It’s been about a year now since I was in the oil and gas business. I would think more doing it, but not as much as I would have thought we’re doing it considering how popular those things are at the trade shows.

Carman Pirie: Trade show advice when we’re talking about …

Jeff White: Communications.

Carman Pirie: Yeah. And advocacy work. You never know where it’s going to come from.

Jeff White: Yeah.

Carman Pirie: David, I wonder … I don’t know where this is going to go, so if you don’t want to answer it or … I’m just curious. It seems to me that there’s a lot of talk in the world of marketing these days about telling people, telling their story or being storytellers. I may sound a little eye rolling when I say that, only because I think it’s just so buzzword-y these days in some way. But anyway, I think somebody approaching the world of marketing from a more communication-centric perspective may have a point of view on that around … What’s the one thing or some tips that you might give to manufacturers to better tell their story than they may do today? 

David Ward: That’s a good question. I think we talked earlier that from the earned media perspective, there’s things that I’ve seen folks do. I think I may have mentioned like ABB where they actually are hiring journalists or former journalists to act as contractors that provide this sort of well oiled sort of a format to content creation, and development and storytelling that they can then market from and use, but I don’t know from content perspective, the new things or interesting things, we’ve won several awards in the last few years and some of the content and stories that we tried to tell, and I don’t know. For us, we focus a lot on our workers, and what the impact looks like and showing what their everyday lives are beyond the day-to-day work that they do. But I think there’s probably a better way to answer this question that you’re asking. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. I think that it’s interesting to know what’s worked for you as an organization, or as an association as well, but you’re telling me that the content that you’ve produced, it goes a little bit more human interest and goes beyond the surface of the worker and their role has tended to resonate.

David Ward: Yes. On one side, I would try not to think about … The policy makers, they just love being able to tell stories of, “I heard from John in my district, he works 10:00 to 10:00 every day, or long hours and it’s a blue collar job, and I’m helping them and their families put food on the table and send their kids to college.” They don’t get those stories unless we provide it to them, or it’s very rare that they get to tell those stories unless we give them an opportunity to meet those workers. We hold events throughout the year where we’re inviting policy makers out to those facilities, or we’re developing our own content focused around these workers to try to tell their stories and bring it to them on the hill or deliver it to them and some other social media channel or other way that we can hit them. 

But other good pieces of content, I’ve seen work really well, whether it was with wind or here is showing off your technology in a really cool interesting way through videos. At wind, we should show how a wind turbine gets installed and that process in a sped up loop kind of thing, or some of the best things that we’ve seen performance social media from my industry is just watching a piece of equipment come off the line and all the things that go with that, or even just one getting delivered on a work site, and what it’s capable of is showing your technology off in a way that a lot of these things, they’re projects that take a long time, so you have to …

One thing that always help us is speeding up that video timeline, or … But just in general, I’ve seen most of the engagement. A lot of people don’t always see the product at play, and showing off technology that way in its environment can help too, but our audience here, at least in DC is our policy makers and they like to tell stories of their constituents back home, and ways that they’re helping out with that. 

Carman Pirie: It’s not often that I get political on this podcast, but I’m curious. 

Jeff White: I generally try to avoid it.

Carman Pirie: Yeah. But it does occur to me that I think a lot of the political narrative around manufacturing in North America is focused on the blue collar side of it. Frankly, that isn’t necessarily the manufacturing that I see in my day to day. Now, there’s some of that. Of course, there’s blue collar workers part of it, but it’s also a remarkable amount of high tech R&D, product development going on, and it seems that those stories don’t get told as much. What do you think, David?

David Ward: Yeah. That is a really important point. Just as much as we like talking about our blue collar workers, which I think is still possible, I think what you’re speaking to is the fact that we are also a cutting edge industry. We use technologies, we use VR, we use Google Glass, we use other things on the facility floor that a lot of people may not fully realize, and a lot of folks, policymakers included may feel like they can imagine what it looks like, is this more traditional blue collar rust belt sort of Factory Floor? But I think that is a big issue and I think some more storytelling that we need to do is showing off. Even a lot of these … Honestly too, our jobs overall pay better than average for manufacturing jobs. 

A lot of it is highly skilled positions, and that’s a big issue right now is workforce development and making sure we have the right workforce coming in with the right skillset to be able to perform these modern day jobs, and that’s a big hurdle that we’re trying to overcome right now, and trying to work with policymakers and others to do, but I think showing that, we haven’t probably done enough of that is showing that those types of really highly skilled modern using, modern day technology with these workers it’s not this … It’s sort of old school mentality of … In every case, for sure, of what the Factory Floor used to look like? There’s definitely a more modern approach in a lot of cases. That storytelling as well is very important, of course. 

Jeff White: I was visiting one of our manufacturing clients in South Carolina, and exploring their floor and just marveling at the amount of digital transformation that had gone on around robotics, and other just in time inventory type things. One of things that they were really proud of was that they had been able to make this transformation to a much more modern, and a digitally enabled enterprise while still maintaining every single job, and using that instead to educate everybody who had been there before on how they would interact with these new machines. I think there’s probably a very compelling story about the impact of digital transformation on manufacturing and the change to more knowledge-based careers, and where different organizations are going, and how they’re enabling their existing teams to do that.

Carman Pirie: Yeah. It’s an interesting story and it’s so absent in the political narrative.

Jeff White: Yeah. I wasn’t even thinking about how you would tell people outside of the customers, and things like that of the manufacturer that that’s happening. Yeah. Very interesting.

David Ward: Yeah. That’s a great example of, I think could be possible through our VR sort of lens and you can … Here’s what a modern day worker looks like and they’re putting on a Google Glass, or look over a Factory Floor, and see the robotics at play or other type of content you’d want to pour looks like, and why policy that supports the right sort of workforce development.

Carman Pirie: Well, David, I think this has been a fantastic conversation. I’ve really appreciated you bringing this perspective to the show, and really just exploring this with us further. There’s been just a number of insights come out of it from an important … Just really re-imagining, and grasping the importance of earned media through to internal communications, and even VR for public affairs, so we’ve covered a lot of ground today. Thank you for that.

David Ward: Yeah. Yeah. No, I appreciate it. Thanks for letting me have a chance to be a part of a bit more of an offbeat sort of edition. But no, this has been great. Thanks for having me. 

Carman Pirie: It’s been a pleasure, David. All the best. 

Announcer: Thanks for listening to The Kula Ring with Carman Pirie and Jeff White. Don’t miss a single manufacturing marketing insight. Subscribe now at That’s K-U-L-A

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David Ward

Director of Public Affairs at the Association of Equipment Manufacturers

David Ward is a strategic communications professional with over 13 years of business, policy, and advocacy communications-related experience. David is currently the Director of Public Affairs for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), the 125-year-old, North American-based trade association representing off-road equipment manufacturers and suppliers, with more than 1,000 companies and more than 200 product lines in the agriculture and construction-related industry sectors worldwide. Before AEM David worked for General Electric, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the U.S. Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Committee (DPCC), Progress Now, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, the League of Women Voters of the United States, and Global Ties U.S. An alum of Villanova and Georgetown, David has successfully planned and executed multiple strategic communications campaigns focused on national and state-based policy goals. David works in Washington, D.C. and lives in Northern Virginia.

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