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Marketing disciplines, broadly speaking, focus on sales. A PR strategy often has sales objectives, but it’s generally much broader than that – it’s about target audiences, messages that chime with them, and how to engage with them. As such it’s about authenticity and genuine engagement, talking with not at. It’s about earned media and it’s powerful.

What is earned media? Put simply, it’s exposure of positive messages originating organically outside of an organisation. That might be media coverage, social media mentions on other people’s social channels, word-of-mouth recommendations and reviews, blog posts or external content creation.

It’s not paid for by the organisation, instead it’s earned from external audiences. That brings with it trust and emotional connection, both critical to the success of a brand.

Recognising the differences between earned, paid, and owned media is key for your digital marketing strategy. Businesses often approach us by telling us they need “PR” – by which they really mean the more traditional advertising routes like publishing a news story through print, online and broadcast news media. In our first meeting we help them to understand that media forms only a part of the mix and any effective PR strategy works through a combination of tactics, with earned, paid and owned media being powerful tools alongside a host of other tactics used in content marketing services.

In this piece, we’ll put the other elements of PR strategy aside and focus on earned media. In news and broadcast, earned media is coverage in print, online, radio or TV that a publication or outlet has chosen to use or follow up – at heart, it’s a “good story” that a journalist or editor feels deserves to be shared.

When it comes to the types of media, using all three is the best mix to really drive your digital marketing efforts, improving search engine rankings and increasing your brand’s visibility across various social media platforms and search engines.

What is earned media?

Earned media differs from paid media ,which is anything which involves paying to be seen by your audiences, and often demands high budgets but ensures control over messages. It’s also different from owned media which is content your organisation creates but doesn’t pay to disseminate – such as your website, blogs, social media posts or e-marketing.

Mostly, marketers use a blend of the three.

Earned media is coverage or publicity that a business or individual achieves organically. Most often this term refers to news or feature coverage which can be achieved in several ways.

In some cases, a journalist from national, specialist or trade media may approach you for comment on a hot topic, or use your business or project as a case study to illustrate a wider point. Often, the coverage is the result of a successful pitch – they are following up on a direct approach or a press release they have received from you or your PR agency.

In all cases it helps to have consistent public relations efforts to build profile and position your business as a leader in its space. Journalists simply can’t approach those they don’t know about – and achieving profile through media liaison, regular content creation and word-of-mouth marketing can be a slow burn but worthwhile process. A good PR agency will help you maximise the opportunities here, using contacts and earned media database tools to put you and your business in front of the right journalists and editors.

Aside from publications and broadcast, earned media includes social media interactions – for example when a large number of followers, and/or high value influencers post about your business or share your content without you having to make a financial investment.

Earned media vs paid and owned media

Paid and owned media have their place and can be very effective in building and maintaining profile. In some sectors of the media, a combination approach works well – there can be an unspoken pact that a business which supports a target publication through advertising has shown that it values that publication’s readers, and is more likely to be looked upon favourably for earned coverage.

Audiences are smart – they know when they are being advertised to, and although they will often engage with paid media, display advertising and social media ads, there is an additional layer of trust and authenticity to earned media coverage. Earned media is relatively hard to achieve and rare – and this rarity is part of its appeal. You really need to have something valuable for journalists, influencers and audiences to want to share and engage with it on their own terms.

Strategies for accelerating earned media

While the media industry, especially newspapers and magazines, has taken a massive hit in recent years, it is still a medium that people trust – and that’s hugely important for earned media. Any coverage comes with the credibility of the third party reporting on your organisation.

Although you might get lucky once, consistently achieving earned media takes effort and expertise. A good strategic PR agency will be able to help you build an engaging profile that journalists and influencers want to engage with – one that reflects the strategic goals of your business.

You’ll need to ensure any media relations activity you undertake is strategic. What are the objectives of the coverage? How can those objectives be met? That’s key. Which publications will deliver on the objectives, and how do we then maximise the impact of the coverage when it lands? There are several tactics that can be used to increase your chances of successfully achieving earned media:

Building relationships with journalists

The media landscape is tougher than ever, with fewer journalists handling more and more work amid a deluge of inbound approaches from PR agencies and the public. Building well-established relationships with journalists and news outlets requires time and effort and it needs to be a two-way street – you must be able to genuinely offer high-quality stories and commentary that will work for them.

This is why it’s important to use professionals to maximise the impact of your media relations. Everyone thinks they can write. Let the PR professional deliver their skill. They don’t tell lawyers how to draft a contract – they’re different skills.

Creating compelling narratives

Whatever your sector specialism, whether that’s technical or consumer, the copy that you draft should be all about engaging with your target audience.

That’s your end user, with the journalist between you and them. Make it clean, easy to read copy, don’t use technical or industry jargon or words that are there for the sake of it, make it high impact. Best of all – use a professional.

Tell compelling stories that the reader can relate to, explain the impact of actions more than the process. Support with data or statistics. Use great imagery.

Creating compelling narratives is a must for engaging your target audience and encouraging organic mentions and earned media coverage. This narrative should gel completely with your business’s strategy and ambitions – what do you want audiences to know you for? Stories that resonate with your target audience are more likely to be shared and discussed and may focus on your expertise, industry insight, customer success stories, and unique selling points.

Leveraging user-generated content

User-generated content refers to any form of independent, objective content created by the end user or target audience, rather than your organisation – it’s a powerful marketing tool that helps your brand connect with audiences in an authentic and engaging way.

Common examples of this type of content can be found on social networks, websites, or other digital channels and can include anything from a Google review to a third-party blog on your brand or a product review.

User generated content (UGC) is a powerful driver of earned media – because when we talk about earned media, we don’t just mean press or broadcast. UGC is perceived as more trustworthy and authentic compared to branded content. If customers engage constructively with your business on social channels, review sites and forums, these can be valuable organic mentions and positive reviews that improve perception, boost credibility and help develop a wide-reaching audience for your brand.

UGC is perceived as more trustworthy and authentic compared to branded content.

  • Engagement: Content created by users often generates more engagement as it resonates more with the audience. 
  • Cost-Effective: It’s a cost-effective way to generate fresh content regularly.
  • SEO Benefits: UGC can boost your SEO efforts by adding unique, relevant, and keyword-rich content to your site.

So UGC is all about people. Make it about them, not you.

Engage with your audiences and communities at every opportunity. Listen to them. Collaborate, like their social media posts, comment on them and share them, email and network with them. The more they feel they know you, the more supportive and engaged they’ll be with your brand.

Work with social media influencers, create collaborations and brand ambassadors.

Encourage your customers to share their experiences of your brand by leaving reviews – people trust these and trust is key. Google reviews are great for SEO, but also use review sites such as TrustPilot. Make it easy for them to do this – a QR code at POS, a link on the bottom of your emails, in your e-marketing, personally when that’s appropriate.

Maximising presence on social media

A successful social media campaign can generate earned media by creating buzz and encouraging shares. Here’s how to design a strategic campaign that aligns with your wider digital marketing strategy:

  • Set Clear Goals: Define what you want to achieve from the social media- is it brand awareness, engagement, or conversions?
  • Create Shareable Content: Design content that is engaging, informative, and easy to share.
  • Understand your brand tone of voice (TOV) and use it – always.
  • Be consistently disciplined – in your brand, your TOV and also in your commitment to regular posting. Scheduling tools can help with this.
  • Engage. Engage. Engage.
  • Track Performance: Use analytics tools to measure the success of your campaign and adjust accordingly.

Effective social media campaigns can significantly boost your earned media potential. By creating a wider audience for your brand generally through engaging and shareable content, social media shoutouts and social media competitions, you enhance your brand’s credibility and make it more likely that journalists and influencers will engage with you.

Monitoring social media mentions

Keeping an eye on social media ensures you can understand your brand’s online reputation and identify opportunities for earned media. This technique is called social listening, and means you can stay on top of your mentions, even when working with worldwide brands.

  • Use Monitoring Tools: Leverage tools like Hootsuite, Mention, or Brandwatch.
  • Analyse Sentiment: Understand the sentiment behind mentions to gauge public perception.
  • Engage Proactively: Respond to both positive and negative mentions to show that you value customer feedback. It is really important to respond well to customer testimonials and online reviews, particularly if the online review isn’t a positive one.

Monitoring social media mentions gives you powerful insight into how often your brand is being discussed and in what context – whether that is positive or negative. Social media listening tools such as Brandwatch, Mention, Orlo, Pulsar, and more can help you supercharge your content by understanding what works well with your audiences. Using specialised tools for social media monitoring also helps you address any concerns or negative feedback promptly, protecting reputation and credibility.

Boosting search engine visibility with Search Engine Optimisation

It’s pointless having a stunning website if people can’t find it in search. The drive to boosting search engine visibility is an ongoing one and Google is a fickle beast which changes the rules of the game constantly.

We work with specialist partners in search engine optimisation (SEO) – they steer our content and the two specialisms working together is a powerful combination. But there are some basics that it’s important to be aware of.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the process of enhancing your website to increase its visibility for relevant searches. Effective SEO practices ensure that search engines understand your content, making it easier for users to find your site.

Key SEO Strategies for Visibility Improvement

Boosting your search engine visibility is a multifaceted process that involves keyword optimisation, quality content creation, on-page SEO, mobile optimisation, backlink building, and technical SEO. By implementing these strategies, marketers and business owners can significantly improve their search engine ranking and attract more organic traffic.

1. Keyword Optimisation

  • Keywords are the foundation of SEO. They are the terms that users enter into search engines. Effective keyword optimisation involves:
    • Research: Use tools like Google Keyword Planner or SEMrush to discover relevant keywords with high search volume and low competition.
    • Integration: Naturally incorporate keywords into your content, titles, meta descriptions, and headers. Avoid keyword stuffing, as it can harm your ranking.

2. Quality Content Creation

  • Content is king in the realm of SEO. High-quality, relevant content attracts and retains visitors. Focus on:
    • Relevance: Ensure your content addresses the needs and interests of your audience.
    • Freshness: Regularly update your site with new and engaging content. This signals to search engines that your site is active and valuable.
    • Length: Longer content tends to perform better in search rankings. Aim for comprehensive pieces that thoroughly cover topics.

3. On-Page SEO

  • On-page SEO involves optimising individual pages to rank higher and earn more relevant traffic. Key elements include:
    • Title Tags: Craft compelling title tags that include your primary keyword.
    • Meta Descriptions: Write concise meta descriptions that provide a summary of your content and include keywords.
    • Header Tags: Use header tags (H1, H2, H3) to structure your content and highlight important points.
    • Image Alt Text: Include descriptive alt text for images to help search engines understand your content.

4. Mobile Optimisation

  • With the increasing use of mobile devices, ensuring your site is mobile-friendly is crucial. Google uses mobile-first indexing, which means it primarily uses the mobile version of your site for ranking and indexing. Steps to optimise for mobile include:
    • Responsive Design: Ensure your website adapts seamlessly to different screen sizes.
    • Fast Loading Times: Minimise load times by compressing images and leveraging browser caching.
    • User Experience: Create a user-friendly interface with easy navigation and readable fonts.

5. Backlink Building

  • Backlinks are links from other websites to your site. They are a significant ranking factor as they indicate to search engines that your content is valuable and credible. Effective backlink strategies include:
    • Guest Blogging: Write guest posts for reputable sites in your industry.
    • Influencer Outreach: Collaborate with influencers to share your content.
    • Quality Content: Create shareable content that others naturally want to link to.

6. Technical SEO

  • Technical SEO ensures that your website meets the technical requirements of search engines. Key aspects include:
    • Site Speed: Optimise your site for speed with techniques like image compression and server response time reduction.
    • XML Sitemap: Create an XML sitemap to help search engines crawl your site efficiently.
    • Robots.txt: Use a robots.txt file to guide search engine crawlers on which pages to index.

Although all of this is important to be aware of, Google changes daily and we have found it’s best to take advice from professional SEO specialists who work with the platform daily.

Integrating key SEO strategies for maximum Impact

1. Keyword Research

Keyword research is the foundation of any successful SEO campaign. It helps you understand what your target audience is searching for and allows you to tailor your content to meet those needs.

  • Use tools like Google Keyword Planner, Ahrefs, or SEMrush to identify high-volume, low-competition keywords.
  • Focus on long-tail keywords that are more specific and less competitive.
  • Analyse your competitors’ keywords to find gaps and opportunities.

2. On-Page Optimisation

On-page optimisation involves making your content and HTML source code as search-engine-friendly as possible. This directly affects your website’s ability to rank in SERPs.

Key Elements:

  • Title Tags: Include your primary keyword and keep it under 60 characters.
  • Meta Descriptions: Write compelling descriptions that include your target keyword and are under 160 characters.
  • Header Tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.): Use these to structure your content logically.
  • Alt Text for Images: Describe images using keywords to improve accessibility and searchability.

3. High-Quality Content

Discussed above as part of visibility, it’s a key strategy for your SEO.

Content is king in the world of SEO. High-quality, relevant content keeps users engaged and encourages them to spend more time on your site, which boosts your search rankings.

How to Create It:

  • Focus on creating value-driven content that addresses the needs and questions of your audience.
  • Use a mix of formats like blog posts, infographics, videos, and podcasts.
  • Regularly update your content to keep it fresh and relevant.

4. Technical SEO

Why It’s Important:

Technical SEO ensures that search engines can crawl and index your website efficiently, which is crucial for ranking.

Key Elements:

  • Site Speed: Optimise images, use a content delivery network (CDN), and minimise code to improve load times.
  • Mobile-Friendliness: Ensure your site is responsive and looks good on all devices.
  • XML Sitemap: Create and submit an XML sitemap to search engines to help them understand your site’s structure.
  • Robots.txt: Use this file to control which pages search engines should crawl.

5. Link Building

Why It’s Important:

Backlinks from reputable websites signal to search engines that your content is valuable and trustworthy, boosting your rankings.

How to Build Links:

  • Guest Blogging: Write articles for reputable blogs in your industry.
  • Broken Link Building: Find broken links on other websites and offer your content as a replacement.
  • Skyscraper Technique: Create superior content and reach out to sites linking to inferior resources.

6. Local SEO

Why It’s Important:

For businesses with a physical location or those targeting a local audience, local SEO helps you appear in local search results.

How to Optimise:

  • Google My Business: Claim and optimise your listing.
  • Local Keywords: Include location-specific keywords in your content.
  • NAP Consistency: Ensure your Name, Address, and Phone number are consistent across all online platforms.

Integrating SEO strategies into your public relations plans can greatly improve your earned media value. Remember, having a credible profile means journalists and others are more likely to engage with you – and using an SEO specialist to optimise your informative content will improve search engine rankings, attract organic traffic and drive visitors to your website and blog, ensuring your content reaches a larger audience and making earned media more likely.

Gaining organic traffic through quality content

High quality, informative content that engages your target audience is the key to gaining organic traffic. Be regular, be consistent, and be on message – regularly publishing valuable content on your blog sites, social media channels and your owned platforms boosts the likelihood that you will be seen as a specialist in your field and a credible source of information – enhancing your earned media potential.

Evaluating earned media performance

Share of voice is a key measure to gauge your brand’s presence and credibility when compared to competitors. By assessing share of voice, you can understand the impact of your earned media efforts. We will often use tools that track media mentions and social media engagements to help us measure this.

Measuring direct and indirect impact

Evaluating the direct and indirect impact of earned media is essential to understand its value to your brand. This can involve tracking metrics such as organic traffic, search engine rankings and customer engagement before and after a piece of media is earned – and although it is not an exact science, this will help determine the return on investment of your earned media strategies and refine your approach for better results.

Managing digital marketing and PR

Earned Media written on white paper In the background there are media cameras.

Creating a converged media strategy involves integrating earned, owned and paid media to create a comprehensive digital marketing plan. This ensures all your marketing efforts work together to build a picture – amplifying your brand’s reach. Leveraging the strengths of each media type, and combining them, can deliver a powerful impact.

Developing a digital marketing plan

A detailed digital marketing plan will outline your goals, target audiences, target publications and the actions you will take to achieve profile, including paid, owned and earned media. We will often share this plan with a client using an online platform, so that we work seamlessly with in-house teams to allocate tasks, track progress and ensure all marketing efforts including the content strategy are aligned to the business’s strategic goals.

Cultivating customer connections

Encouraging customer reviews and testimonials can greatly improve your reach and reputation – remember that reviews on forums such as TrustPilot, TripAdvisor, and Feefo, positive posts on social media and feedback on your business’s website are valuable user-generated content and count as earned media. They can be vital in building profile and in influencing the decisions of potential customers.

Fostering exceptional customer experiences

Exceptional customer experiences are a shortcut to earned media such as positive reviews – as the old saying goes, if you like it, tell your friends! This means getting your core offering right so that it reflects your brand values and what you tell people about your business – and then let the magic happen. When customers have positive experiences, they are likely to share them – but remember that the opposite is also true and that bad news travels quickly.

Influencer marketing

Influencer marketing – as we’ve discussed – is a form of earned media. It is often seen as a business-to-consumer tactic but can also be highly effective in the business-to-business space, and strategies for b2b influencer marketing can help you reach a larger audience through a personality they trust. Influencers can provide authentic endorsements and share your content with their network, driving organic mentions and engagement.

Building Authentic Influencer Relationships

Building authentic relationships with influencers takes time – you must engage with them genuinely, understand their audience, and co-create content that resonates with both their followers and your brand values. Authentic partnerships result in more credible and impactful earned media.

Leveraging Content Beyond Blogging

Exploring Alternative Content Platforms

While blogs are well-established method of content marketing and one of the most commonly used forms of owned media, exploring alternative content platforms can expand your reach. Consider video content on YouTube, podcasts, webinars, downloadable guides or white papers on LinkedIn, and interactive content to engage with different segments of your audience on the platforms they use most. Diversifying your content formats increases the chances of organic mentions and shares.

Expanding Reach with Experiential Marketing

Experiential marketing involves creating memorable experiences, that engage your audience on a deeper level. Events, stunts, pop-ups, out of home and interactive campaigns can generate significant attention and media coverage. These experiences often lead to organic social media mentions and positive reviews, amplifying your earned media efforts. They work particularly well when media, experiential marketing and social media combine, as this Polymedia campaign example for the airline KLM shows.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can you differentiate between earned, owned, and paid media?

Earned media comes organically through public relations efforts and may include news coverage, media commentary, customer reviews, and content sharing.

Owned media includes channels controlled by your brand, such as your website and social media accounts.

Paid media involves financial investment to promote your brand – this may be in the form of print, online, radio or TV advertising, paid social posts, PPC (pay per click) Google ads, or website banners.

What are exemplary cases of earned media’s impact on PR campaigns?

Earned media’s impact often involved getting the right journalists to cover the right stories. Often national coverage is seen as the gold standard but in reality, it may be more impactful to reach a smaller, highly engaged specialist or trade media audience.

National earned media

In this Polymedia case study, earned media in national, regional and specialist press combined for Tempcover, a motoring insurance client, generating significant coverage off the back of detailed consumer research.

Regional earned media

For a law firm client, Thringsthis case study demonstrates how a smart combination of paid-for and earned media in a regional lifestyle magazine delivered profile and positioning.

Specialist earned media

This example shows how niche coverage in an industry publication was a highly effective approach for the launch of SureDuct, a safety product for the electrical maintenance industry.

In what ways does earned media contribute to PR success?

Earned media gains trust, increases brand visibility, and feeds positive relationships. Organic mentions and positive reviews from independent sources are seen as more trustworthy by audiences, leading to higher engagement and fostering customer loyalty.

Could you explain the value earned media brings to public relations?

Earned media brings significant value to public relations by amplifying your message on platforms that are respected and trusted. They leverage the credibility of third-party sources, and build trust with your audiences.

How does retargeting ads on social platforms influence consumer decision-making?

Retargeting ads on social platforms remind consumers of their previous interactions with your brand, keeping your products or services top of mind. For example, viewing a product on a shopping site but choosing not to buy straight away may result in ads that remind the user of the product and encourage a purchase. This repeated exposure can lead to higher conversion rates.

What strategies ensure the effective conversion of earned media into business growth?

To convert earned media into business growth, know that it can be a long game, and focus on high-quality, shareable content, engaging with your audience on social media, encouraging positive customer interactions such as reviews and testimonials, and building strong relationships with journalists and influencers. Regularly monitor and assess your earned media performance to refine your strategies.