“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” – Mark Twain
I’ve been working in a public relations setting (a.k.a. “earned media”) for 25+ years. As social media became a prominent marketing tool and digital-only agencies popped up, earned media was predicted to go the way of the dinosaur. Don’t get me wrong—I love social media and digital strategies. The ability to measure, adjust, target and integrate paid components are powerful tools in the overall communications mix.
While Stratacomm is an integrated marketing agency, providing full advertising and digital strategies, we continue to thrive with earned media, too, and it’s a central consideration for any integrated communications effort. According to a report from the CMO Council, 81% of business leaders agree that the change in the business environment between the global pandemic and social unrest is driving greater importance toward earned media.
So, why earned media?
- The payoff. Earned media placements are not guaranteed. It takes sustained effort to build relationships with journalists, crafting compelling narratives and staying abreast of current headlines. Unless you have breaking news or are an A-list celebrity, you need to put in the work to develop a feature story or the type of relationship where a journalist will call you for a point of view on a story they are writing. The upside is the payoff is enormous. News shared on social channels is often traced back to earned media content, and a story in a major top-tier publication will spawn broadcast and follow-up stories—it may even drive up stock prices.
- The credibility. Americans’ trust of the news media is complicated. The skepticism of the role of news outlets is heavily influenced by events that have divided our country over the past several years, but according to a year-long Pew Research Center study, this skepticism is healthy and points toward the important role the media has in sharing information. Reputable news outlets and journalists—despite the nation’s love/hate relationship with the media—continue to offer third-party credibility for your brand, which in turn helps build trust among audiences.
- The web traffic. When a brand is mentioned in a news article, there is typically a link back to its web page. This alone helps increase your SEO, helping you appear higher in search results. Numerous studies, including one by Similarweb, show a direct correlation between media mentions and increased brand visibility.
- The pride. There’s an intangible feeling that comes with a positive news story about your brand. Whether a small, medium or large brand, company leaders, shareholders and employees all take away a sense of accomplishment when an unbiased third party finds their story compelling enough to tell. Earned media is both an art and a science, and the ability to leverage storytelling to create and reinforce passion, commitment and engagement cannot be taken for granted, particularly in a world where we see 5,000+ ads a day.
Earned media is not a quick fix, and it’s even harder for smaller brands to compete with the backdrop of shrinking newsroom staff. That said, the effectiveness of using earned media in combination with paid, shared and owned tactics cannot be overstated. While you can certainly buy your way into a conversation (and at many times should), the credibility of having a respected journalist or news outlet cover your brand or story will have an incredible boost on brand awareness.
Sharon Hegarty is a Senior Vice President and Senior Partner and self-reported news junkie.