How ‘earned’ media proves itself more valuable than paid

5 January 2020 | 5 min read | News
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins

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On a cold, damp spring afternoon in 2019 a call came in from a business who we had been speaking with for several weeks and hoped to convert into a new client. The proposal was to their liking and once the finer details were agreed, a deal was done. By Christmas, this client had gone from being an unknown just nine months beforehand, to having one of the strongest and most identifiable brands in their industry. So, how did they do this?

It was simple. They used PR to gain interest, trust and authority in who they are and what they do. The PR strategy took three forms.

First, their ‘message’ was amplified across their ‘owned media’ channels (blog, newsletters, video, podcast). Second, engagement between the business and its community via their social media channels was stepped up a gear. And third, perhaps the most important aspect, a media outreach campaign was initiated to get the ‘message’ and ‘name’ of our client ‘out there’.

Generating earned media coverage

Creating engaging and valuable content that can be posted and shared by the client on an ongoing basis is one thing, but to truly become a ‘known’ entity means engaging the media on a one-on-one basis.

We did this by building relations with those journalists and editors who a) write about the kind of thing our client wanted to talk about, and b) represent the media whose readers, viewers and listeners were exactly the kind of people our client wanted to do business with.

By Christmas 2019, just nine months since we started working together, the client had been quoted, interviewed and featured by some of the most prominent media in the UK. They included the likes of BBC News, Sky News, WIRED, and The Independent in addition to a plethora of trade publications and regional media titles.

In total, the media outreach put our client in front of over 62% of all UK adults, with an audience reach surpassing 30 million over a nine-month period. If the client had sought to reach this audience via advertising, their spend would have been on a par with the total GDP of a small country.

How does ‘earned’ (PR) media compare to paid media (advertising)

With each mention in the press, the clients’ brand was given third-party credibility – a validation of their story from a trusted source. This matters for many reasons, but the most important of which is the way in which buyer behaviour is affected.

In 2018, Cision stated that 81 per cent of senior marketers believe “earned media has more of a positive impact than paid media.” They went on to say that less than half (47 per cent) of people actually trust the advertising they see.

These findings are supported by other research, such as that carried out by Forrester for instance, who found that 88 per cent of consumers say that advertisements and direct marketing have little or no influence over which brand they choose to buy from.

But it isn’t just potential customers who perceive a brand as more credible if it appears in the media. A study conducted by Ogilvy found that “journalists agree (65 percent) that the more the media covers a brand, the more credible the brand appears.”

In other words, familiarity and repetition not only boosts the chances of a buyer opting to engage with one brand over another, it also influences the likelihood of other media outlets featuring said brand within their publications.

It is said that the average person is exposed to 5,000 to 10,000 advertisements per day. To get their message seen and heard above the increasingly audible noise is one heck of a challenge. Therefore, a different tact is needed – one where the message is being communicated to the right people, in the right way at the right time using the method of communication that people want to receive this information.

As someone who spent over a decade working in advertising before making the switch into PR, I believe that advertising should always remain part of the promotional mix. But today’s consumers have advertiser fatigue and to allocate most of the organisation’s marketing spend on a format that fails to engage people or influence purchasing decisions is utterly nonsensical in my view.

The only – and I mean ONLY – way to engage your target market, convince them you’re a credible product or service provider, and convert them into a paying customer, is by focusing your promotional efforts on generating earned media. Advertising will generate short term hits, but earned media will deliver a sustained ROI over the long term.

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