Don’t Go Dark: Combining Earned & Low-Cost Paid Media During the Pandemic

April 24, 2020
Hannah Luera
Social Media Account Manager / Executive Assistant


If you’ve never tried running digital ads before for your organization – or have in the past but stopped due to budget constraints – you might want to reconsider. Why? Because of COVID-19.

Sounds strange, right?

It’s true. Shelter-in-place orders are resulting in captive audiences with increased screen time, and many companies are seeing their website traffic increase exponentially. In fact, people are spending 20% more time in apps during the lockdown, according to a recent report by Social Media Today, with Facebook and Instagram holding the number 3 and 4 spots, respectively, on the most-downloaded apps list. It’s a good time to be active on the platforms to build touchpoint awareness.

So what can you do with this information that will help your business with its digital strategy? Here are three actions you can take right now to help ensure your organization is making the most of its online presence during COVID-19.

Focus on the Long Game: Run a Facebook Lead Ad

Many people hear the word “advertisement” and think of a hard sell – or an immediate sell. That’s not always the case, nor should it be the objective. For example, if your business is experiencing a decrease in sales during the pandemic (perhaps because you’re not in a high-demand industry such as, say, medical supplies) you may be tempted to “go dark” and pull any ads you have running. 

Instead, we suggest you try running an ad campaign on Facebook with the objective of generating leads. In these ads, you can offer a free product sample or piece of valuable content in exchange for contact information. This will allow you to develop a pipeline of prospective customers whom you can lead through the sales funnel with email marketing campaigns, newsletters, etc.

It’s important to note that Facebook has reported they’re heavily relying on their automated systems to review ads that are being submitted during this time, so consider reusing an ad you’ve previously run on Facebook.

SEM for the Win: Take Advantage of Low CPCs and High CVRs

When people are looking for goods or services these days, they’ll likely start their search online through a search engine such as Google or Bing. Search engine marketing (SEM) is the process of promoting your website (primarily through paid ads) to increase its visibility on search engine results pages – in other words, helping ensure you show up on the first page. Every company wants to be on that prestigious first page – and for good reason: Only 0.78% of Google searchers click on a link from the second page of their search results.

One of the silver linings of the pandemic is increased performance on digital ads for many industries. Nonprofit and charity organizations, for example, have seen a 10% increase in search ad impressions, a 23% increase in search ad conversions, and a 20% increase in search ad conversion rate (based on data from a study conducted by WordStream). The finance and beauty industries are both experiencing a lower cost per click (CPC) and higher conversion rates (CVR) on their Google ads.

If you don’t have experience with Google Ads, don’t let that deter you. Google has made the process very user-friendly over the years and you really only need to follow four basic steps: create a goal, pick a geographic location, craft your message, and set a budget. Today’s advertising dollar seems to be going further. With decreased ad costs and increased ad performance, it’s a good time to dip your toe in the water!

Give Your Favorite PR Team a Call: Focus on Earned Media, Too

So why is a public relations firm telling you to spend money on ads? Aren’t we supposed to be focused on getting you and your company editorial coverage (or earned media) that runs without a paid fee? 

Simply put, every company should take an integrated approach to telling their story and promoting their brand. Right now, combining paid and earned media is going to serve you well. Boosting your online presence via paid methods (such as those outlined above) goes hand in hand with earned opportunities that an experienced PR team can cultivate for you, such as news media coverage and bylined articles. It’s important to remember that earned media is always strategic and helpful for your online presence, positioning you as a thought leader and boosting your overall search engine optimization (SEO) strategy.