When to Include Earned Media (PR) in Your Marketing Campaign

You might find yourself wondering…should public relations (PR) be part of my marketing strategy? What role does it play? Where does “earned media” come into the picture? And what constitutes being “newsworthy”?

We get a lot of questions here at Pace Marketing about PR and its role in marketing. Yes, PR can complement marketing efforts nicely, if you coordinate and time them right. In addition to getting your message out, if done right, press coverage could impact your Google search results and increase traffic to your web and social channels. But organizations also need to have realistic expectations around their PR efforts. Earned media especially is a very specific tool for specific ends, and it needs to be approached with best practices in mind. 

Here, we review when to include PR in your marketing plan, as well as how to think about earned media so you can devise campaigns with maximum effect.

What Is “Earned Media”? Is This the Same as Public Relations (PR)?

“Public relations” or “PR” is the term most people are familiar with; there are even huge agencies that specialize in PR and little else. According to the Public Relations Society of America, PR is:

“… a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

Traditionally, this meant seeking publicity and favorable write-ups in the press. Today, it can involve much more, including protecting a company’s reputation or polling public opinion.

Earned media is content relating to an organization that is 1) published by a third party and 2) without any form of payment to the publisher. Thus, earned media is not published by the organization itself (like social media posts or company newsletters), nor does the organization pay to have it placed (which would be advertising or paid media). Earned media usually takes the form of stories (written, voice or video) about the organization or about a company’s product. Editorials would count, too.

Importantly, earned media and PR more generally are entirely different from influencer marketing, which involves getting product placements or endorsements from people or organizations with an audience (typically on social media). Influencer marketing sometimes uses similar terms and can complement PR, but it is a different thing entirely.

On the other hand, earned media is naturally a large part of maintaining public relations, and it is usually what our clients are asking about when they ask us about PR. So, here, we use the terms earned media, public relations, and PR more or less interchangeably. Just keep in mind that PR might include more than just earned media placement, especially as a company gets larger and has a known public reputation to uphold.

Why Pursue Earned Media? The Goals of PR

In our time as a marketing agency, we’ve met a fair number of company leaders who are, shall we say, “press release happy.” Whenever marketing results were lackluster, they assumed it was because of a lack of “exposure” and so would continually suggest putting together press releases for everything the company did, no matter how big or small.

It is important to keep in mind the goals and capabilities of PR. A press release, by itself, is unlikely to make your phone ring. There are other marketing tactics that are better for lead generation.

But PR can be a fantastic complement to your other marketing campaigns. For example, we recently paired some PR efforts with both traditional and digital marketing for a client that was undergoing a name and brand change. The articles were placed in exactly the right publications at exactly the right time, creating a compounding effect across all channels.

PR complements other tactics well because it can:

  • Raise awareness of your organization outside your current clients and contacts
  • Grab attention for a specific event or product
  • Provide a kind of testimonial for your products or services

If you have not put effort into lead capture and conversion efforts, it might be wise to spend some energy there first. (In other words, look at the middle two-thirds of your marketing funnel.) Once you have done that, or if you are planning to do the two in tandem, you are ready to get strategic about the “when” of your earned media.

One final note: the function of PR is NOT for link-building or SEO. If your tactic here is just to push out a bunch of company news as fodder content for link-building from high DA websites…please reconsider. First, the value of that content (and hence the link) are likely to be low, and search engines pick up on that very quickly. So gaming the system will actually hurt you here. Second, there are much better ways to get higher-quality links. Think of PR as your effort to get the public (i.e., actual human beings) to understand who you are as a company, and what you believe in. It should not be a means to some other, unrelated end.

When to Include Earned Media Campaigns

Earned media exposes the public to content about your company. This can be the perfect complement to your own content, especially when promoting a specific event or highlighting a significant change.

But, as with most things in life, timing is everything. Here’s when your organization should consider blending in earned media efforts:

Have a “Story” to Tell

All good PR starts with a story. A story is simply a retelling of something that happened or is happening—something your audience will care about. 

For an organization, a story is usually built around events like….

  • The launch of a new product or service
  • The opening of a new location
  • Rebranding
  • A change in leadership
  • A new hire (in a significant role)
  • A merger, acquisition, or business partnership
  • Research findings (that are of public interest)
  • Awards and accolades
  • Response to a crisis (crisis management)

Notice that these are all events—for each, you can answer the questions who, what, when, and why, and maybe even where and how. This helps to contrast a story with something that is a mere promotion or offer.

A story is also something your audience cares about because it says something about your organization and what it believes. For example, your audience will likely not care if you hire a new counter clerk, but a new person in a key leadership role can signal change and growth. Or, to take another example: No one will care that your company is attending a trade show, but they might care if you are planning to announce a new product there, along with a sneak-peek for VIPs.

Finally, a story should align with your brand. In other words, your earned media placements should align with the key messaging for your product or company. Anyone pitching earned media placements for your company should also be sure that the stories being pitched align with this overall messaging.

In short: Start the PR/earned media process only when you feel your organization has a story to tell, and can guarantee that this story aligns with brand messaging.

“When” Can Depend on “Where”

Sure, your audience should care about the story you tell. But who the audience is, and what they care about, will depend on the media outlet you are considering (and vice versa).

Another way to put it: What counts as “newsworthy” depends a lot on the particular publication under consideration. For example, a write-up of a hot new restaurant would be great for a “foodie” magazine, but it would make less sense for a trade publication outside of the restaurant world. On the other hand, a merger of two nationally known businesses would be huge news for a trade publication but not relevant for a “foodie” magazine (unless the merger were of two restaurant chains).

The angle of the piece might differ depending on the publication, too. Both examples above could work for a business journal for a major metropolitan area, for example. However, the piece on the hot new restaurant would likely be a profile of the owner/creator of the restaurant and his entrepreneurial journey. And news of the merger might focus more on how local offices and people are affected.

Because the newsworthiness of an event depends on the audience reached, you should not automatically assume that the larger the audience, the better. Impressions—the number of “eyes” on your piece—matter only if the people seeing the piece are in your target market and are seeking this specific kind of content. (Sure, some events have a broad public appeal. But “the public” is also good about seeking out niche publications and media when they want to consume specific kinds of content.)

For example: Getting a professional article about your product published in Review of Ophthalmology is going to get a lot of results if you happen to have a product targeted to ophthalmologists. That same product would get nowhere near that level of recognition if it were simply published in a local newspaper. 

Part of the role of a public relations partner is to cultivate and maintain good relationships with media outlets. A large part of building those good relationships is knowing which kinds of stories are most valuable to which publications, and whose attention they most likely will grab. This is why it pays to have a good PR partner help with placement—and to listen to them when they make suggestions.

In short: Hire a seasoned PR partner to help with your earned media placement and to help you develop your story so it will have the best chances of appearing in your chosen publications.

Make Sure the Timing is Right

For PR to be done correctly, it needs to be fresh and relevant. Old news is not news at all.

For example: Suppose your company is waiting for FDA approval for a new device. You will want the news of that approval to launch as soon as the FDA gives you the green light—and not three months later. So you should have a release ready to go, with appropriate venues chosen and contacted, well in advance. (But not so far in advance that the product is still in the development stage!)

Again, if you have a story in mind, there will usually be a date attached to the events of the story. Start from there and work backward so your PR can drop as soon as it is relevant.

In short: Have your earned media content “ready to go” in anticipation of important upcoming events. If the event in question is already passed, it might be too late.

Keep Your Bandwidth and Budget in Mind

Doing good PR takes time and effort, which equals budget. Interviews will need to be scheduled, press release drafts created, and the right stories for the right media placements developed. If you don’t have the time and the budget to do things well, it is probably not worthwhile to do them at all; better to put that effort into more traditional sales and marketing efforts.

In short: If you don’t have the time and budget to “do PR right,” your efforts will likely flop. Better to put off PR until you have the necessary support.
Earned media placement is, of course, just one tool in the toolbox for branding and marketing. For this reason, we always suggest having your overall marketing strategy, messaging, and branding developed first. We can help you with those, and then help ensure that your earned media placements stay aligned. To get started, why don’t we schedule a roadmap call?

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