Marketing, News, Public Relations, Social Media

Earned media: what it is and our top tips on how to secure it

25 October 2021 4 min read
Reading Time: 4 minutes

When you’re creating a communications strategy for your business, it’s likely that you’ll come across the terms earned, owned and paid media. A well-rounded communications strategy will include all and each will provide significant value to your business – especially when used in synchrony with each other. Today, we’re going to focus on earned media – what it means, our top tips for securing it and how it can help catapult your company to a new level.

A definition

Earned media is content about you, or your business, that is created and published by a third party. This covers word-of mouth advocacy from PR social media activity that drives ‘retweets’ and shares, influencers who represent your brand and reviews. Essentially, it’s what your audience does on behalf of your brand. It can be difficult to both secure and measure but is arguably far more persuasive therefore valuable than straightforward advertising. So, how can you secure earned media? We’ve outlined our top tips below.

Influential ideas

Success in generating earned media will always require high quality content that has an element of surprise and/or strong PR-value. A study analysing 4,863 award entrants and winners from 2011 to 2019 identified the main types of outputs that creative marketing produces, setting them in a hierarchy of levels from least to most commercially impactful. You can find the full list here – but the first was ‘influential ideas’ – essentially, using creativity to generate a buzz and maximise engagement.

Within this, the researchers found three fail-safe behaviours behind the campaigns that delivered ‘influential ideas’:

  1. Act in a way that is opposite to how big companies normally act to be surprising and shareworthy
  2. Capitalise in a relevant way on a major media or cultural moment that is already big news
  3. Take the side of the consumer and fight injustice to inspire them

Focus on these and your road to earned media will be much easier. Without it, you may find your efforts fall short.

Focus on telling a story

With terms such as ‘unique visitors’, ‘users’ and ‘impressions’ used everyday in the marketing world, it can be difficult to remember that your audience are people too – with emotions, feelings and everyday struggles. Yet, once you remember this and make it a central part in your communications strategy, it’s a game changer. People love stories and creating content that plays on their emotions and engages them on a human level will drive the best results.

A 2020 study that looked at what motivated viewers to share Youtube videos found that emotional ads are shared significantly more than informational ones, and that ads which appeal to positive emotions, such as inspiration or amusement, stimulate significant ad sharing.

The same study also found that video ads between 1.2 and 1.7 minutes long are most likely to be shared compared to shorter or longer ads. This is because time allows you to tell a story, create a narrative and leave the viewer with something to remember. Similarly, ads where the brand name was not prominent, were also more likely to go viral. Emotion and storytelling are proven and effective ways to deliver earned media – so next time you are writing a release or planning a social campaign, ask yourself: am I telling a story? Will this connect with my readers on an emotional level?

Use not-for-profits as inspiration if you have a small budget

Non-profits provide some of the best examples of gaining earned media on a small budget. They will often turn to social media to spread awareness of issues, generating a huge level of conversation and engagement.

A great case study is non-profit Plastic Oceans International, who turned a country-sized patch of trash into the world’s 196th nation – the Trash Isles – complete with its own national identity and seeking UN recognition so members would be obliged to clean it up. It used social media to promote public awareness of ocean pollution, getting young people to act and lobby their governments.

With just a modest budget, the campaign reached over half a billion people and more than 240,000 signed the petition to become a citizen. Importantly, all 193 UN countries have now pledged to tackle the crisis of plastic in the oceans. A carefully planned social campaign can generate significant PR traction – and as we see with this example, secure a spot on the global agenda – so it’s a mistake to think earned media has to break the bank.

PR is an essential ingredient to success

For any campaign, PR can be one of the most effective ways to create buzz – especially amongst new audiences. However, most have only a vague understanding of what public relations means, and very few understand the true impact it can have on your campaign.

More companies are investing a tremendous amount of time into staying on top of their PR strategies and are seeing larger returns with better ROI as a result. This is because it not only enhances your online presence, but it has the power to change the way people think about your business – and it can be difficult to achieve this impact and brand growth with owned media alone. That’s why when you’re brainstorming your next campaign, it’s important to think about how you can incorporate your PR strategy to generate that all-important earned media and create an even stronger brand reputation.

Integrate paid, owned and earned for cross-channel impact

While earned media can enhance campaign effectiveness, without paid media it will only gain traction if you have a really strong influential idea that will easily go viral – and those aren’t always easy to come by. POE (paid, owned, earned) is a form of multichannel marketing, which harnesses the interconnectedness of ‘traditional’ and digital channels to drive sales. It optimises all channels and uses paid media to drive earned media.

The most important thing for businesses to remember when looking across these channels is consistency – and to have your brand and value proposition instantly recognisable. You don’t need to get hung up with the terms – they are more of a guideline to ensure you don’t miss any opportunities.

So there we have it, our top tips for securing earned media. Ultimately, success comes down to two simple factors – stepping out of the mould and appealing to your audience’s emotions. Once you have a campaign that does this, you can implement a strategy that will complement your wider marketing activity and work for your budget as a business.

To understand how you could integrate earned media into your comms strategy, get in touch. We’d love to chat.