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Bill C-18: What Brands Can Do to be Ready for it

Andrea Lee

Andrea Lee, Vice President, Earned Media, Proof Strategies

How do you find your news online?

If you’re like me, old school, you go right to the source: a news website or a news app, where I can browse through a wide range of stories at my leisure. According to the 2023 Reuters Digital News Survey, that’s typical for Canadians over the age of 35. But younger Canadians don’t go directly to the source. Instead, they tend to get their news via social media, namely Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and more.

The passage in late June of Bill C-18 will make that harder. Also known as the Online News Act, Bill C-18 will require platforms that make news content available to Canadians – Facebook, Instagram, Google Search among them – to pay the news companies to do so. Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram and Threads, has said it will not pay. Instead, it says it will remove or block Canadian news content from its platforms by the end of the year. Google has said it will remove Canadian news links from its Search, News and Discover products when the law takes effect.

At Proof Strategies, we’ve been watching this story closely. After all, earning attention via news coverage is one of the most effective ways business and brands can connect with their audiences; it’s a mainstay of public relations. 

After studying the legislation and through our ongoing, extensive research into Canadians’ news habits, we maintain that earned media is and will continue to be a highly credible and trusted source of information for Canadians. When combined with owned and paid approaches, earned media efficiently delivers tremendous value to our clients. Our approach also ensures earned media delivers value to those for whom we ultimately create it: the audience.

News as a trusted source

For brands, news consumption is critical because Canadians trust the news. Year after year, our Proof Strategies CanTrust Index shows that news on traditional media (newspaper, TV, radio) as the most trustworthy source for reliable information; news on news websites follows a few spots behind. And being trusted is important for brands.

According to a January survey by Ipsos Reid, when price and quality are equal, 87 per cent of consumers say they’ll more often choose products and services from the company they trust more. Eighty per cent will stay loyal to that company. At a time when companies are fighting to attract and retain top talent, 86 per cent of those surveyed say they are more likely to work for the company they trust more.

What to do?

So, for those wondering how Bill C-18 might affect their brand or company, we recommend:

  1. Reconsidering your KPIs: Many organizations measure the success of an earned media campaign via impressions; that is, the number of people exposed to a piece of media content. If news stories can’t be shared on social, it follows that impressions will be negatively impacted. At Proof, while we acknowledge the importance of this KPI for some, we have always recommended customized KPIs, including our proprietary impact score, that can be tied specifically to business objectives.
  2. Expanding beyond organic content: Earned coverage is often included within organic content planning across the social media channels of brands and thought leaders. For now, be sure you’re telling your key brand stories through a combination of earned, owned, social and paid channels to maximize audience reach.
  3. Exploring paid content: Leveraging earned media content through paid ads is a proven way to amplify reach and enhance targeting to audiences. As the details of the Online News Act get ironed out, consider leveraging more owned content (i.e., brand content rather than media coverage) within campaigns.

It is possible that the Canadian government will negotiate agreements with Google and Meta to reverse the current impact of news blocking and removal; every day seems to bring some new development.

The news industry has faced challenges before. It will face them again. And we at Proof Strategies will meet those challenges the same we have since we started out 29 years ago: with innovation, curiosity and a commitment to excellence.

A version of this article first appeared in Strategy Magazine.