PayPal Compounds Interest Through Innovative Media Strategy

September 4, 2018

Amanda Miller, director of global corporate communications at PayPal Holdings, Inc., will present an interactive case study titled “Using Owned Media to Drive Reputation” on Sept. 26 as part of PRSA’s Case in Point series. PRSA spoke with her about PayPal’s approach to making, as well as delivering, news through an innovative combination of owned and earned media.

In 2015, PayPal spun off from eBay and became a name brand without a parent company. What was that transition like for PayPal’s employees, and how hard was it for PayPal to establish its own independent identity?

Part of the opportunity when we separated, after a long proxy fight with activist investor Carl Icahn, was the chance to reset our strategy, and therefore our narrative, in the public domain.

PayPal had always largely been seen as a button on a website, and we now had the opportunity to establish ourselves as a large digital-payment platform.

What did that process entail, and what corporate values were you hoping to create in your own right?

Our four value tenets are collaboration, innovation, wellness and inclusion, and as we evolved as a business, it was really important to us to talk about what we stood for, our mission, vision and values. But when you’ve just separated from a large company after a well-known activist has agitated for that change, the media isn’t primarily attracted to your cultural value proposition. They’d rather talk about your stock or your M&A strategy.

How did you break through that barrier and get your messages out?

The media only has so many column inches, so we started leveraging our social channels to talk about our value proposition to merchants and consumers, our long-term growth strategy and our mission, vision and values.

You’ve said that during the last election cycle the media landscape “flipped.” What do you mean by that, and how was it a key factor in developing your owned-media strategy?

During the campaign, the media, investors and consumers were going increasingly to Twitter and other social media outlets to find hard news.

At the same time, Facebook was leaning into video with Facebook Live. So for the next year or so we continued to test more and more content on social channels, including increasing the visibility of our CEO, Dan Schulman, as a values-driven leader who could help tell the story we wanted to tell about what we stood for as a business and as a brand.

So Dan’s evolving social presence helped PayPal advance its own values-driven narrative?

Yes, Facebook Live allowed us to position ourselves as our own broadcast-media company, and Dan as the convener of important conversations on fintech, corporate culture and purpose-driven businesses.

For example, Dan sat down with the founder of Giving Tuesday, Henry Timms, to talk about the concept’s creation and what it meant globally as a fundraising tool. This conversation was really powerful in encouraging people to give to charity during the holiday season because it provided context to why the day was created and the impact it has.

We were seeing incredible traction because people wanted to hear what leaders had to say. His 2017 Facebook Live videos earned more than 8.3 million impressions and 3.3 million views, averaging 300,000 views each and representing a 257 percent increase in video views from the previous year.

What was the next step in continuing, and increasing, that type of engagement?

In August 2017, Facebook announced it was launching Facebook Watch, its own video-on-demand service. Whereas the conversations Dan had on Facebook Live covered a wide array of topics with not only PayPal employees and executives but also with other industry leaders, we decided to create a very focused branded series for Dan called “Never Stand Still.”

What’s the meaning behind the title, and what is the show’s format?

Dan is an avid practitioner of Krav Maga, a martial arts self-defense system. “Never Stand Still” means exactly that, because if you stand still you’re asking to be hit. It’s a biweekly series featuring Dan and other titans of industry talking about their successes, challenges and failures; talking about moments when they’ve gotten hit, how they’ve kept moving and what they’ve learned along the way.

It drives thought leadership for PayPal and relevancy; it also creates news when there is none. The Wall Street Journal recently wrote an article about David Solomon becoming the new CEO and president of Goldman Sachs, and included a quote from his “Never Stand Still” interview with Dan. We’re leveraging our own channels to drive the conversation, which is exactly what we want to do. 

The “Never Stand Still” debut in June 2018 was a key element of your more proactive owned-media strategy. What are some other channels you’re using?

LinkedIn is an incredible platform that has largely moved to reposition itself as an independent news source, and we’re using it to build up our executives’ profiles and as a vehicle to help inform customers of our value proposition. For example, we aggregated photos from every Pride celebration we had internationally, and posted a message from Dan about how important inclusion is as a value to PayPal.

Last March we launched @PayPalNews on Twitter to target our financial news media; we wanted people to come directly to us to find out what was happening at PayPal. And during our April quarterly earnings cycle, @PayPalNews was retweeted more than Bloomberg, Reuters and The Wall Street Journal combined. We have a very targeted strategic filter: We don’t need a lot of followers; we need the right followers.

In addition to owned media, how important does earned media continue to be in the mix?

It’s absolutely imperative that we continue to work with our reporters and editors. We couldn’t do our jobs without them, and we don’t want to do our jobs without them. 

Owned media is totally supplemental and additive. For example, we offer our beat reporters advance transcripts of all of Dan’s “Never Stand Still” episodes, since they are so content-rich. We talk to media constantly to find out what’s happening, what they are hearing, etc. I think a lot of companies, as they move toward owned media, over-index in that category. Media relations is the platform upon which we build everything, and I think that’s critical to point out.

What’s your advice to others interested in positioning themselves not just as newsmakers but also as news sources?

First, determine who your audience is, and what messages you want to get out to them. It’s really no different than when you have a piece of news and you say, “This is a Wall Street Journal story vs. a New York Times story.” We look at owned media the same way, and say, “This is really a LinkedIn story,” or “It’s a Facebook story.”

The key is to create a filter, and put the channels and content through that filter to figure out the best place to tell your story to reach exactly the right audience.

Part of the opportunity when we separated, after a long proxy fight with activist investor Carl Icahn, was the chance to reset our strategy, and therefore our narrative, in the public domain.

PayPal had always largely been seen as a button on a website, and we now had the opportunity to establish ourselves as a large digital-payment platform.

Learn more about PayPal’s media strategy by participating in PRSA’s interactive case study series, “Case in Point,” on Sept. 26 (3-4:15 p.m. ET). To register, visit prsa.org/pd.

Rod Granger

Rod Granger is PRSA’s director of public relations and communications. He previously served as communications editor at Pearson North America and director of corporate communications at VH1.



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