The rise of earned media (Part 1)
Written by Simpatico PR
Posted on 27th February 2017

Despite all the opportunities to integrate its many facets, the communications and marketing industry remains fundamentally siloed. Media relations is a prime example: by and large, it operates in splendid isolation from the rest of the marketing mix.

And yet, there are significant business benefits to linking earned media (PR); owned media (your website and social channels) and paid media (advertising and search) into a coherent programme.

The link between all three is content – editorial content – created to engage and inform from a brand or business point of view.

Whether earned media is finally securing its rightful place in the marketing mix was the subject of a recent Gorkana Webinar which Simpatico PR contributed to.

We debated whether in a complex media and marketing world where advertising (and other forms of paid media) are suffering from competition and consumer indifference, earned media – particularly editorial content – is growing in importance for brands.

If so, what are the challenges? And how should you go about blending earned, owned and paid media?

Right at the beginning of my career in the early ‘90s this kind of thinking wasn’t even an option, so let’s remind ourselves of what’s changed in terms of media and audience influences.

1. Increased supply of media

In the space of 30 years we’ve shifted from a world with limited media supply in which businesses and brands could more or less solely influence audiences with paid mass media messages, to a scenario where media output has vastly increased and is continuous.

Geographical boundaries are being eroded – the launch of a global version of The Drum, is but one small example. Social media has created a feedback loop. It means the flow of influences on opinion is now vast and continuous.

This has created a more transparent world – because people know more, they are empowered but are also less trusting. Cultural change and globalisation are factors too; people are more sophisticated and connected.

The result is it’s far harder to influence people too. Not because they can’t be influenced, but because that influence is constantly being affected by information from all that other media.

2. Media democratisation

Digital technology has meant that on the one hand businesses are capable of owning their own media channels and building audiences, and on the other projecting information via social channels. All businesses from hairdressers to car manufacturers are or can be media owners.

But it is still remarkable how many businesses and brands fail to think this way.

They fail to recognise that they have the potential and the right to create interesting writing, video, images, interactive widgets or just about anything else for their customers and other stakeholders to enjoy.

In fact, what they do, think and know (and where they see themselves and the world going) is a great source of content. The trick of course is to do it well.

3. The age of disruption

Technology has become the most powerful daily influence on life and business. Every business is being digitised. Traditional business models are being changed – the pressure to innovate is acute.

Which means businesses and brands need to have a consistent profile and continuously explain why their products or their services are relevant.

So technology has provided the opportunity to join the dots between paid, owned and earned media.

But technology has also made it essential to do so, because of the vastly more complex and challenging media and social environment.


So should earned media take its rightful place in the marketing mix?

It is very clear that there is an imbalance between the value perceived of earned media and the investment in PR strategies which can fulfill that promise.

During Gorkana’s Rise of Earned Media Webinar, Tom Ritchie, Cision’s EMEA product and marketing director presented a slide which showed perceived value of earned media and investment in it are almost mirror images:

Source: Cision presentation – Gorkana Rise of Earned Media Webinar


Brands which don’t connect earned media with paid and owned channels to create an integrated approach are missing the chance to capitalise on the benefits of earned, owned and paid media:

  • Earned media is about credibility – it influences and positively reinforces perceptions

  • Owned is about reinforcement – direct communication, community interaction via social media and cultural projection too

  • Paid is about extending audience reach and pure awareness – presenting your products or brand to as large an audience as possible

In the context of today’s hugely complex global media and social environment, it’s hard to see why you would not seek to co-ordinate all three.

Look at Red Bull. It spends virtually nothing on traditional advertising. Instead, it invests heavily in creating content and channeling that through earned, owned and paid media. It is a media owner that is synonymous with extreme sports in as much as, say, Discovery is synonymous with exploring the natural world.

But it is in the B2B PR and communications space where this approach is gaining more traction. More business brands are experimenting with co-ordinated native and media relations as well as rich content marketing.

However, that integrated thinking is the exception not the norm.

Why should PR lead content marketing?

There seems to be a psychological gap. A lot of content marketing tends to focus on owned and paid content and fails to loop in PR right at the start. PR meanwhile has tended to focus on owned media and agencies that are offering content services separate the two.

Our view at Simpatico is that businesses should lead with content creation informed by strategic brand messaging or proposition messaging. PR is a natural choice to lead that process and it should do.

If you build a funnel of engaging content ideas, these can then be fed through media relations – your owned channels – paid media and experiential too.

So why should PR come first? The simple answer is credibility, sense-checking, putting ideas under the intense scrutiny that journalists practice. It is a quality control process right at the start.

So businesses should look at PR differently. Rather than simply being a media relations function, PR can be the source of editorial creativity that can generate engaging content for earned, owned and paid chanels.

It can help articulate big ideas:

For example we helped develop a concept for Accenture Digital and their innovation consultancy Fjord about the future of digital services – a concept called Living Services which became a classic integrated B2B programme. It co-ordinated multiple channels and was the focal point for media relations and all marketing activity.

Linking earned media to owned and paid programmes also helps businesses to influence perceptions of many different audiences: the ways in which customers, employees, prospective employees, business partners, industry bodies etc. see a company.

Generally speaking these are:

  • The nature or strength of your business proposition or product

  • How you influence (or are influenced by) events and innovation in your space

  • Your personality and business culture: including how you treat your people and your customers; your business mind-set, whether progressive or conservative; how you interact with the world around you and how responsible you are

Different sizes/types of company and different market sectors will have different pressure points across these areas.

The bit that our clients always want to know about is – what does the creative process look like?

Is it going to burn a lot of my time? How do I control it?

Businesses should look at it as a controlled journalistic exercise – you could call it brand journalism. We’ll look at this in more detail in our next post.

@SimpaticoPR – Intelligent business PR 

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