Image for Earned Media Isn’t Dead Because Stories Still Matter
Media relations has changed, not gone away. Earned media from a compelling story pitched to the right publication can engender deeper viewer engagement and remain searchable for a long time.

Pitching Stories Today Requires More Than Just an Idea

Earned media has been overshadowed by social media in the digital age. However, self-published content doesn’t always pack the same punch as a good story told well in a credible publication that results from a good story idea pitched well.

Social media is unquestionably dynamic as a real-time messenger. Earned media is a slower walk that enables a deeper narrative, which can create an indelible impression. Content from social media and earned media are both shareable, but earned media stories tend to be more searchable and, consequently, more evergreen.

The good news is that social media and earned media aren’t mortal enemies in the metaverse of communication. They can and should coexist in marketing and strategic communication plans. They can be mutually supportive. They can reach a wider audience with different preferences for how they acquire information.

Memo, in collaboration with PR Week, conducted a series of roundtable conversations with 17 experienced communications professionals representing well-known brands such as Mastercard, Colgate-Palmolive and Carnival Cruises to discuss media relations and its role today in earned media. Key points from the conversations were turned into an ebook titled, Earned Media’s Value: The True Story. The ebook itself is a type of earned media.

“The layers of what consumers care about these days is much deeper,” says Brian Brockman, a vice president for communications for Nissan in North America who participated in the roundtables. ”You can’t convey everything you want a customer to hear simply through advertising.” That’s where earned media comes into play.

‘The long-term search value of a media piece written by a premium publication is forever,” adds Eddie Kim, founder and CEO of Memo, which offers a data platform of readership data from key publications. “Narrative moves markets.”

Earned media isn’t dead. If you have given up on media relations, you should reconsider.

For PR and marketing professionals, earned media may not seem as sexy as video production or social media campaigns. Earned media is hard work that requires identifying story ideas that go beyond flackery, translating those ideas into effective media pitches and convincing reporters the story ideas will appeal to a publication’s readers.

A tantalizing feature of earned media is that it’s free, unlike paid media or sponsored content. Earned media also shouldn’t be confused with brand journalism, which involves brands publishing news-like stories about themselves in their owned communication channels.

The moneyball for earned media is engaging viewers longer, asserts Kim. Social media posts often attract viewers for just a few seconds. Well-written and well-placed earned media content can engage readers far longer and more deeply.

Earned Media Takes Many Forms

Earned media takes many forms. The standard earned media approach is to pitch and place a story in a major publication, a trusted blog or a popular TV show. Earned media is especially valuable for brands or companies attempting to reach and impress an audience in a specific sector through its respective trade press. This form of earn media depends on establishing relationships and rapport with reporters, editors and influential bloggers.

Story “pitches” also can include self-published material in a backgrounder, newsletter or blog. Memo’s ebook is an example of creating a storyline, posting it and making it available online.

A related earned media tactic involves creating content for an internal audience that employees, in turn, will be willing to share through their social media channels. You could call this an inside-out earned media strategy that relies on the credibility of employees to gain the attention and favor of an external audience.

One of Kim’s key takeaways is measuring the impact of storytelling requires a more sophisticated approach than counting the number of impressions it receives. One of the most valuable outcomes from an earned media placement is a chain of word-of-mouth comments, which can range from letters to the editor to sharing a link to the story on email or social media. The measurement becomes how much an earned media placement generates buzz, discussion and brand recognition.

For cynics who say print media is dying, the participants in Memo’s earned media roundtable suggest media is just evolving. Reporters still answer calls from PR folks. More frequently than many realize, reporters follow up pitches and write stories. What has changed is a higher premium on visual communication, on showing what you mean instead of just using words. Visual communication also gives a story a leg up in appealing to multi-media publications, which is now just about everybody in the publishing business. If you pitch a story, include more than just a paragraph. Help a reporter see the story you are pitching with photos, video, charts and whatever shows the story.

The Nine Lives of Earned Media
Earned media campaigns need “nine lives”. It’s not enough to pitch a story to a single publication and think the job is done. The job requires thinking of every outlet possible where the published story you pitched can be replayed, shared and talked about. Consumer reviews and social media interaction are examples of the nine lives of stories.

Earned media isn’t dead. If you have given up on media relations, you should reconsider. “The relationship between journalists and PR pros has always been important,” Kim observes. “Today, though, it goes well beyond, ‘Let me get some piece of earned media into that outlet. OK. Thank you. Goodbye.’“

Placing a story in a premium publication is a big deal, but it isn’t, as you might say, the whole story of earned media. It’s the earned media you get afterward that represents the real value for the time and enterprise invested.