Earned Media: Brand Building’s Secret Weapon

I recently blogged about how to earn local media coverage in three easy steps — and although I received some great response from people who found it helpful — I did feel I kind of glossed over the importance of earned media. So, I’m sharing this blog which originally appeared here, at the ExpertFile Blog site.


I was reading the newspaper recently and saw an article about tax filing season.

The article outlined some of the challenges facing people during tax season but it also highlighted some of the opportunities and useful tips.

It wasn’t the reporter outlining this information — it was a tax expert the reporter had interviewed and used as a source in their story.

The information was incredibly helpful. The expert being interviewed humanized the issue by telling stories about people she had helped. I was engaged. And, because I was engaged, I read the story very carefully.  I even remember the name of the expert and the name of her firm. It stuck. I happen to have an excellent accountant — but if I didn’t — I can guarantee I would have called this expert in the story. In fact, I have no doubt she got calls after the article was published.

And, from her standpoint and the standpoint of her firm — they paid nothing to be in that article. Not only did they get valuable space in a news story as an expert without paying for the exposure — the reporter likely even thanked her for helping.

Glasses on newspaperAdvertising executives, marketing agencies and social media “gurus” typically don’t like people like me — news media strategists.

We tell clients that the best bang for their buck is “earned media” which means exactly what it says — media that you have earned (and not purchased) whether it be through relationships or by being in an expert database. We help them tell their organic stories by positioning them as experts in their field, which is not easy today given everyone has a LinkedIn account or website calling themselves an “expert” or a “guru”.

You see — it’s one thing to proclaim yourself an expert — it’s something completely different to be recognized as one by the news media. Despite what some will say, traditional news media is far from dead. Is it facing challenges and reinvention? Absolutely given the cutbacks we’re seeing weekly these days. But, dead? Absolutely not and it’s still the medium by which earned media legends are made.

Now, I want to be clear in saying there can be, indeed, a time and place for paid media. The issue is that for too many organizations, it’s the only tangible tool in their toolbox. And it is, by far, the most expensive tool with, questionably, the lowest return on investment.

In my opinion, unless you’re spending Coke and Samsung levels of dollars on advertising (multi millions), there’s a good chance your ads are being washed away in the information tsunami — the white noise that is our over-saturated information ecosystem.

In many cases, advertising as a stand-alone marketing strategy CAN BE a colossal waste of money. Even social media marketing and advertising is fast becoming the most cluttered and noisy space for paid and promoted messaging. Due to its lower cost, people are flooding to it making it increasingly more difficult to be heard in the sea of white noise.

Young man pointing at Marketing Plan conceptThe fact is that a well-balanced marketing and communication strategy is one that reaches your target audience on a number of levels — some of them could be paid — some of them organically through social media — and the one many people neglect is to serve as experts to drive earned media. It is often neglected because it’s the one marketing tool that requires working with someone who truly understands journalism and journalists — and what their daily and hourly needs are in terms of getting their jobs done.

So – yes – it’s hard work getting earned media coverage as a recognized expert — and it’s very specialized work. But there are companies, people and tools out there that can help. And, it’s worth the hard work. Being quoted as an expert in a legitimate news story or feature interview can move mountains in terms of building your brand. First of all, being in a news story gives you an instant status AND credibility. In paid advertising, it’s you saying how great you are — it’s self-declared. People are skeptical — they know you’ve paid to say that about yourself; you are blasting out a one way message.

However, the traditional media interviewing you is a two way conversation the public is watching in an engaged way. It’s akin to a third party testimonial. In other words, the viewing/reading/listening audience sees a trusted journalist they feel they know who is putting this expert source in their story — this is someone the journalists trusts as an expert source so inherently the message is that the public should trust them as well. In this case, the medium (traditional news media) truly is a big part of the message. You can’t buy that. Legitimacy. Credibility. The foundation of any successful brand. It is earned.

I have a post-secondary education client I work with. They decided to focus more on earned media, admittedly, with some hesitation. We media coached a number of their professors and Deans. We put a plan into place to develop some tangible relationships with journalists. It started small with one short interview. Then it was two. Then it was a regular spot. And within one year, the amount of earned media they have received has arguably far outpaced the value of all their paid advertising.

Some of their people have become go-to experts for the media where they were non existent just a year ago. Prospective students and parents see this institution’s experts in the media and immediately associate true tangible value to the institution in considering where to enrol. We built capacity with this institution and now it is rolling on its own. It has momentum. This is what you need to reach for.

Earned media is the gift that keeps on giving.

That newspaper story, radio interview or television panel you were featured in will be shared by the media outlets to their huge social media audiences. Other interested people will then share it further to their networks. This is increases your third party credibility — in some cases reaching more people than the original news story. This rarely happens with ads or paid media and is the secret weapon of earned media.

And if you weren’t already convinced, then consider this: earned media creates huge online traffic and can have an extremely positive impact on organic SEO for your website or brand — something paid media can’t do.

So, if you’re a tech startup, a hospital, a university or a research centre, one of the core issues you’re facing today is recruiting top talent. Recruiting is competitive — yet most potential recruits will begin their research on Google. They will search your institution and see what’s being said about you. If you are getting a lot of positive earned media, that will quickly show up high on your Google search results. The potential recruit reads those news stories and sees your institution is out there with its experts. Even doctors and professors will associate traditional earned media coverage as a measurement in credibility.

So, how do you go about increasing your earned media reach? How do you become known as an expert in your field with the media? Admittedly, it’s not as easy as buying a full page ad in a newspapers or boosting a post on Facebook. Earned media is both an art and a science and it requires an intuitive, expert knowledge of the media. Making sure you are listed in searchable online networks that journalists use — like ExpertFile — is a very good start. And, consider hiring a professional in media strategy/PR — not marketing. These are two very different areas of expertise.

But there is a caution. You only have one or two chances to prove yourself as a reliable and value added source for journalists. If you become known as a lame or boring guest, you’ll be blacklisted and that opportunity will disappear. So before you go running into the streets declaring yourself an expert ready for national media exposure, make sure you’re ready to be interviewed by the media — because they won’t give you a free ride.

They are journalists and not stenographers. You will be asked tough, challenging questions. The key is to be prepared for the opportunity.

How do you do that? Well that’s another column for another time.

Stay tuned.


More recommended blog posts:

3 Steps To Earn Local News Coverage

Top 5 PR Blunders of 2015

The Risky Art of Client Gift-Giving

Why Uber Is Winning the Public Relations War

3 Ways to Hurt Your Reputation at Christmas

30 Ways To Piss Off A Reporter

Savvy Marketing and the Whisky-Drunk Media

Does “Off The Record” Exist?

How To Prepare For a Public Relations Crisis

The New Politician’s Guide To Not Getting Killed By Reporters

There Is Life After Journalism

Is Journalism Doomed?