What Does “Earned Media” Really Mean?

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Earned media refers to public relations, analyst relations and investor relations.  The term is pretty self-explanatory, but the wording can reveal much about the way the media operates.  This is especially true when considering counterpart terms like paid media, which refers to advertising and sponsorships, and owned media, which refers to your website, blog, etc.  The phrasing of the latter two suggests control whereas the former intimates a lack thereof.

Earned media does offer the least control (if we’re not including social media in the conversation, that is), but it is also the most potent.  Owned media and paid media will do exactly what you tell it to do, but earned media is more volatile.  That makes some folks uneasy.  They prefer the security of knowing exactly what they’re getting.  If you pay for a banner ad, you know the dimensions, how long it’ll be up there, and how it’ll look.  On your website, you determine which media and copy are presented.  Earned media, by contrast, is never guaranteed and is difficult to predict (even reporters don’t always know what the final product will look like or when it’ll run).

But earned media’s weakness is also its strength.  It’s precisely that unpredictability that bespeaks a credibility not found in earned media and paid media, although they also play important parts in today’s marketing mix (watch a video on our POSE methodology for more on how).  Your website can be the snazziest, most informative website in your industry, but a visitor will know that you’re choosing what goes on there, even if those elements are third-party validators.  Today’s consumer is more educated than ever and, therefore, is more skeptical of paid media than ever.  Earned media, however, is vetted by journalists.

Sure, there is risk when you don’t have control. The potential downside of a third-party review can be negative feedback.  However, if you do your homework (or your representative does it for you), you can minimize the potential for negative fallout.  Still, it’s important to understand when pursuing earned media that uncertainty is the price you pay for the boon of glowing publicity.  Usually, media coverage for your business won’t be one extreme or the other; it’ll be a balance.  A balanced, mostly positive article, segment, etc. trumps the shiniest ad out there at a fraction of the cost.

But don’t take my word for it.  This blog post is owned media and has not been vetted by a third party.

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