What Is Earned Media?
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What Is Earned Media?

What is earned media? Earned media is when a member of the media discusses a product, individual or company through their preferred media. It is earned because the media professional featured them on their own accord, without payment.

When a brand or a professional wants to build their SEO footprint, their industry expertise, or they seek a little bit of fame and virility, they may hire a public relations professional. As the name suggests, a PR executive has relationships with members of the media and continuously pitch their clients to be included in various publications, news shows, podcasts and more.

This creates content and becomes part of the overall digital marketing strategy since it builds their expertise and reputation within their industry. Earned media also results in content that can be used for your website, social media, newsletters and beyond. Bottom line? It’s incredibly useful and gives a competitive edge. 

Earned media is when a writer, producer, journalist or another influential person discusses a product, individual or company through their preferred media.

What is earned media?

Earned media is when a writer, producer, journalist or another influential person discusses a product, individual or company through their preferred media. It is earned because it caught the media professional’s attention and they decided, on their own accord, without payment, to feature the product, person or brand. Often, earned media is credited to public relations experts who ensure their clients are top of mind for industry influencers. 

Additional earned media definitions, according to PR professionals

  • “It’s when a journalist publishes or broadcasts an article that mentions your organization — or your client’s — in positive terms, earning the implied endorsement of that journalist and the media outlet for which they work. It’s what most people understand public relations to be if they have a concept of it at all. It’s not that straightforward, of course, as not all media are created equal. That is to say, just securing mentions anywhere is not what we should be aiming for. We need to be scientific about it and use all of the audience identification and media intelligence tools at our disposal to focus our efforts, so that earned media actually yields real results, not just a large number of hits.” — Jon Meakin, president of North America for Clarity PR.  
  • “Earned media is when you have received a promotion for your brand in an outlet that you do not own, and no monies have been exchanged. You have not paid to be mentioned. Instead, a member of the media has decided to include you in a feature. Earned media could take many forms: it could be a thought leadership quote in a publication, an interview, or an entire write-up highlighting your brand. Earned media is a result of organic outreach, typically in the form of a media pitch to a journalist or producer.” — Meghan Ely, owner of OFD Consulting
  • “Earned media is a piece of coverage garnered on behalf of a product or service that wasn’t directly paid for. Many people confuse earned media with advertising which is a paid function to get your product or service in front of an audience. The art of earned media is marrying that product or service with a timely and relevant story a journalist is working on. It doesn’t happen overnight and takes a skilled communicator that understands what is newsworthy versus what is a piece of ad copy that a client wants to be placed.” — Patrick Gevas, vice president of GreenRoom.
  • “Earned media is any content — written, visual or anything in between — that a brand did not pay for or create themselves. Earned media is created and published by a third party, like a reporter, influencer, or customer. It often carries an implied third-party endorsement as the creator has not been compensated to create the content. Typically earned media appears on third-party sites other than the brand’s website.” — Emily Roethle, senior media specialist at Crowe PR.
  • “Earned media can also be called promotional media. Promotional media is when a third party acknowledges you, writes about you or vouches for you in a channel other than your own. Testimonials are a form of earned media. Mentions on any social media platform other than your own also are included. My favorite, of course, is when a magazine or newspaper includes an article about you or your business.” — Jacquie Jordan, two-time Emmy nominated TV producer and three-time author.
  • “Earned media is current PR industry-speak for mentions of your company or client that appear in a public-facing outlet which landed in that article or segment as a result of being pitched by a PR coordinator or publicist. In the early days, somewhere between Mad Men-like agencies and the modern remote digital marketing firms, earned media was publicity. Nowadays, internally we refer to these mentions of brands or experts as a ‘placement.’ The ‘earned’ part of the earned media equation is a helpful way to refer to this end result when talking to the clients who pay for PR services as it differentiates the media placement from press mentions that are paid for such as sponsored content or advertising.” — Jason Myers, senior account executive for The Content Factory.

Earned media does not cost a brand a dime. Though they may pay their public relations professional, ethically, a journalist can’t accept funds from a company or person to feature them in their medium of choice.

What earned media is not

Earned media does not cost a brand a dime. Though they may pay their public relations professional, ethically, a journalist can’t accept funds from a company or person to feature them in their medium of choice. Earned media is never promotional content, advertisements or any sort of contract where funds are exchanged. 

Additional non-earned media definitions, according to PR professionals

  • “When I started my public relations career, earned media was all there was unless you counted advertorials and the like. Today, the PR toolkit is thankfully much more sophisticated. And while earned media is still an important component of most PR programs, those programs are also likely to include amplified social posts, promoted content, paid influencer relationships, Google Ads and so on. All are legitimate means of achieving the desired ends and complement earned media. For some brands and organizations, there is another category on non-earned media, and that is when those brands or organizations get written about and talked about just by virtue of who they are and their place in the market. Think about Airbnb, Uber and Facebook: these brands are written about a lot, but that coverage is not strictly speaking earned. It’s what we might call organic.” — Jon Meakin, president of North America for Clarity PR.  
  • “Paying for media exposure is not earned media and is often something many people get wrong though the tactic has its place. As the media landscape has changed drastically with the rise of affiliate marketing, the ling can often get a bit blurry. While it’s still critical to match a brand with a relevant story, many media outlets and influencers can make a commission through that story. Most outlets retain their integrity are very clear about disclosing as they are required to do by law. However, there are still corners of the internet or influencers that disguise content as earned, so stay vigilant.” — Patrick Gevas, vice president of GreenRoom.
  • “Advertising is often confused with earned media, when in fact, they are quite the opposite. Advertising is when you’re able to share and promote a controlled message by purchasing the rights to space or placement. Any promotion of your brand that requires payment would not be earned media.” — Meghan Ely, owner of OFD Consulting
  • “In contrast to earned media, paid media is anything created by and/or published by a brand. Examples include paid advertising, sponsored posts and boosted social media content. In this case, money has changed hands, and brands are in control of the message and the medium.” — Emily Roethle, senior media specialist at Crowe PR.
  • “Paid ads are not earned media. Advertising on podcasts, social media sites, television commercials is all examples of paid media. It’s explicit content of full control. This can also include writing your own blog or paying for media in the form of advertising.” — Jacquie Jordan, two-time Emmy nominated TV producer and three-time author.
  • “Advertising or financially sponsoring the content itself to get the company name mentioned in an article is not considered earned media. While these types of media placements give the brand more control over the messaging as well as additional means to track ROI digitally, ads are generally not given the same value in the PR world because most of the audience that consumes ads knows that message is being paid for and thus doesn’t carry the same credibility as the third-party validation your get from a trusted news source.” — Jason Myers, senior account executive for The Content Factory.

Like the name implies, earned media is earned over a period of time.

The stages of earned media 

Like the name implies, earned media is earned over a period of time. That means it requires patience and persistence to see success. Although the process itself will vary from brand to brand, earned media can typically be broken down into four key stages.

  • Define your objective
  • Define your target audience
  • Make a distribution strategy
  • Measure your efforts

Types of earned media

In many ways, earned media is a form of word-of-mouth marketing. It’s an umbrella term, though: Earned media can vary from brand mentions in published content to reposts on social media. It’s up to your brand to identify which form of earned media is most valuable in helping to reach larger brand goals. 

  • Media mentions
  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Social media
  • Reviews

Why earned media matters in marketing

Earned media adds value to any brand. Today, there are so many different brands to sift through that people want to know which ones are worth their time, money, and effort. Since earned media has the word of mouth element, it may feel more trustworthy.

  • Gives brand credibility: The different forms of earned media — media mentions, high-ranking SEO, social media shares, and organic reviews — give your brand solid footing to jump off of. In short, people are more apt to trust a brand that has such favorable press.
  • More sustainable in the long run: Because it’s free and requires little effort on your part, earned media is a sustainable option, especially for a newer brand with a small marketing budget. 
  • Better adapts to the times: The media landscape is continually evolving, but the beauty of earned media changes with the times. The only catch is that you need to know where to be, whether it’s a new social media app or a buzzy website. That means it’s up to you to do some research on media trends and forecasts. 

With patience and consistency, your brand can generate earned media. Although, there are several things to keep in mind throughout the process. 

4 do’s of earned media

With patience and consistency, your brand can generate earned media. Although, there are several things to keep in mind throughout the process. 

  1. Do keep the end goal in mind. Consider your brand’s overall goal — Is it to gain exposure, drive traffic, boost sales, or a combination of all three? At the very start, take time to figure out exactly what your brand is hoping to achieve specifically through earned media and then reassess regularly — monthly or quarterly — to make sure you’re still moving toward that goal.
  2. Do get to know your target audience. Even though you may want to target everyone and anyone, it’s best to focus on key groups that align with your brand. Take the extra time to know the ins and outs of your audience: Where are they located? How much do they spend? What are their social media habits? What are their likes and dislikes? The list goes on. 
  3. Do read, read, read. Familiarize yourself with the media landscape and see how your competitors (or similar brands, even) are being mentioned in print and online publications. Use this intel to guide who and where you pitch.
  4. Do track your progress. There are several metrics that can be applied to your brand’s earned media efforts, including tallying the number of mentions, backlinks gained, and social media shares. By tracking your progress, you’ll be able to understand what’s working and what’s not. 

4 don’ts of earned media

Even though earned media can be molded to fit your brand’s wants and needs, there are certain practices you should — and shouldn’t — put into place. 

  1. Don’t rush the process. Certain types of earned media, like SEO, take time to take shape. The same rings true for media mentions: The more time you have to get your brand name out there, the more mentions there will be.
  2. Don’t undermine the value of relationships. Focus on building quality relationships with editors at dream publications. That way, when your pitch lands in their inbox, they’ll be more likely to open it and, ideally, mention your brand in a future story.
  3. Don’t jump on every moment. This, of course, varies from brand to brand, but not every pop culture or political moment is yours for the taking. Know when it’s appropriate to lean into it and when your brand should sit out of the conversation.
  4. Don’t lose sight of your end goal. All of your efforts should be targeting your brand’s overall goal: increased traffic, a boost in sales, greater brand awareness, and so on. Tailor your earned media efforts to better align with your goals and pivot, if necessary. 

3 brand examples of earned media

Even if your brand is vastly different from the ones mentioned below, let these past successes inspire you.

  1. Masterclass: When you search “gifts for men” on Google, Country Living’s gift guide pops up in the top spot. The first gift in their gift guide is the Masterclass subscription, which means people can click on the link to go straight to the Masterclass website. 
  2. Dawn: A great example of SEO; when you search “how to wash dishes,” Dawn’s step-by-step guide pops up on the first page. Along with a helpful how-to, this page also highlights the cleaning power of Dawn’s products. 
  3. West Elm: On the website, West Elm encourages their shoppers to share photos of their pieces with #mywestelm. Or if they solely use Instagram, they can simply tag West Elm. Sometimes, West Elm will reshare the posts, but often, they will comment on the post to share their support. 
With patience and consistency, your brand can generate #earnedmedia. But there are some do's and don'ts you need to know to secure these coveted mentions. Learn more. #contentmarketing #PR Click To Tweet

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Lindsay Tigar

About Lindsay

Lindsay Tigar is an experienced, established travel and lifestyle journalist, editor and content strategist. Since uprooting from Asheville, North Carolina in 2010 to Manhattan, Lindsay's work has appeared on several websites, including Travel + Leisure, Vogue, USA Today, Reader's Digest, Self, Refinery29 and countless others. While she is always up for the challenge of any assignment, her main areas of focus include travel, wellness, career, psychology, love and healthy living.

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