Earned media strategy 101: guide & real-life examples
How to get high-quality earned media coverage opportunities for your brand
Getting featured in the news isn't really as hard as it sounds. Below we explain what earned media is, how it differs from other types of media, and (most importantly) how to get it.
- Paid, owned, and earned media: what's the difference?
- Which type of media is best (earned, paid, owned)?
- Why would anyone give you earned media, anyway?
- The types of earned media opportunities you can pursue
- How to get earned media coverage
- The challenges of earned media
When we talk about media strategy within the communications industry, we tend to think about three types of media: paid, owned, and earned.
💡 On her blog Spin Sucks, Gini Dietrich often refers to the PESO approach to media: Paid, Earned, Social, and Owned. For our purposes today, we are going to address the P, E, and O, while incorporating the S into the others for brevity. Get it? Got it? Good. For more on the PESO model, read what Gini has to say on the matter.
Paid, earned, and owned media are all important to your overall distribution strategy. They serve different functions and reach different audiences. So before we jump in to discuss more about earned media, let's talk about the distinction between all three.
Paid media is just that: everything you pay for. If you exchange money for a mention, coverage, review, or any sort of exposure that takes your thing to other people, that's paid media.
Paid media isn't necessarily a bad thing and certainly has its place in a strategic media plan. However, the average audience will definitely look more critically towards paid media because it's clear that you are trying to sell them something or otherwise pay for their attention (which, to be fair, you are). In fact, one source says that 96% of consumers flat-out distrust ads altogether, and in the age of endless clickbait and false advertising, who could blame them?
So while paid media can (and often should) be part of your overall strategy, it certainly shouldn't be the whole thing.
Examples of paid media include:
- Social media boosts
- Influencer deals
- Paid brand mentions
Owned media is everything that you house on your website or under your brand's control. This type of media is great for telling your brand story on your terms, without all the guidelines, regulations, and red tape of other platforms, not to mention the throttling of viewership or misattributions of analytics by the big platforms. Owned media is a great way to control your brand's narrative in your own unique way.
Of course, once you own some media, you're going to want to distribute it. Chances are to do that, you'll end up using social media alongside owned channels like an in-house newsletter. And social media is fantastic for distributing your owned content – until it isn't. Many brands have struggled with this over time as the algorithms seem to reward questionable engagement tactics and clickbait-y techniques over quality and interesting content.
A major challenge is that social media is ubiquitous and, well, easy. If something is easy, then everyone else is doing it (and they're doing it a lot). There's more friction involved when it comes to getting the average viewer to your website, newsletter, or other forms of owned media. Many brands are opting for a hybrid strategy, where they give a snapshot of their content on social and then direct people to the owned media.
Rand Fishkin explains how this works:
Examples of owned media include:
- Your website (of course)
- A blog
- A newsletter
- A podcast (or roundtable, if you're so inclined)
Earned media is essentially everything else: all the media you didn't pay for and don't own. It's the social media mentions, the reviews of your products and services, and (especially) the media coverage your brand receives. Earned media is basically free coverage, aka, something you earn rather than buy.
Earned media includes:
- Articles about or including your brand
- Social media mentions, retweets, and reposts
- Someone publically using your product or service
- Word-of-mouth referrals
When we talk about the different types of media, it's not an either/or situation. Most brands use a combination of all three, and it's risky to invest in just one. For example, if you decide to only go the owned media route, how will your audience find you? Your content could be stellar, but if you don't ever engage in any outreach or advertising, that content will just be out there, floating in the internet tubes, never to be found.
Or, if you're relying solely on paid media, what if the algorithm changes or the platforms strong-arm you for more money by throttling your views until you fork over the cash? Not that they would ever, ever do that.
Owned media is great if you have the time to make high-quality content on your own platform. Paid media is great if you have limitless amounts of money to throw at a marketing budget. But the real powerhouse is earned media.
Earned media helps you reach a wider audience and also gives your brand a certain level of credibility because journalists, reviewers, and influencers are exposing you to their audiences without a financial incentive. Which is cool beans.
A quick disclaimer: earned media is an important and valuable resource, but it should not be your entire strategy. It's incomplete to only focus on one and neglect the others. If you're getting tons of earned media coverage, but your newfound audience has nothing substantial to find upon researching your brand, that's just a bunch of running around for nothing. The importance of balancing owned, earned, and paid media cannot be understated, and all three work best together in a cohesive, strategic approach.
When you consider paid, owned, and earned media opportunities, it seems like earned media is a little bit too good to be true. Why would anyone willingly promote your company and amplify your brand for free when brands literally pay billions of dollars for that kind of exposure each year?
Great question, thoughtful reader. Earned media is coveted because it's exactly that: kinda too good to be true. That's why earned media is often competitive and highly desired by PRs and marketers alike.
Media can be earned in many ways. Here are a few.
Thought-leadership is just a jargon-y way to say, "I'm an expert in my field and I'm willing to share my perspectives on the industry." An example of a thought-leader that most people know is Elon Musk. Whether or not you like his opinions is somewhat irrelevant, because (for the foreseeable future) he will continue to be an expert and highly sought-after voice in the tech and shitposting spheres.
And because of this, he is news. Journalists will cover anything he says, anything he tweets, and any questionable decisions he makes. Redditors, bloggers, and YouTubers will analyze his every syllable. He is a walking billboard for SpaceX, Twitter/X, Starlink, and the whole Elon brand.
That being said, you don't have to be Elon Musk to be a thought-leader. There are many more lowkey examples of thought-leadership that can be seen in all levels of media. Brian Dean is a popular thought-leader in the SEO space, for example. Thought-leaders give credibility to journalists, particularly when expertise in the subject is important for their story.
Here's another example of a highly sought-after thought-leader: doctors. Becoming a doctor requires years and years of greulling medical school, and doctors tend to have a level of education and knowledge that us normal, non-doctor mortals don't have. A journalist or media outlet often seeks out the professional opinion of MDs and other medical professionals to provide a level of credibility to a piece.
The Internet has an insatiable bloodlust for content. Everyone is on their phones approximately 45 hours a day, if you round down, which means that outlets are constantly on the hunt for something to put in front of their audiences' hungry eyeholes. If you can provide valuable content to media outlets, you are likely going to get earned media coverage.
Content looks like a lot of things. Many communications pros can get in the habit of thinking that content is simply talking about some thing, but it can be so much more than that. It looks like an interesting event to cover that audiences may want to attend, an absorbing human interest story, some new and insightful research that you developed, a fashionable article of clothing that an influencer loves, and so on.
Humans are tribalistic by nature and want to support people they know, like, and trust. Even in a business context, a person is far, far more likely to work with someone they know and have a relationship with than some random person they pluck off the (digital) streets. Hence, nepotism.
This is exceptionally true in media where a journalist's reputation and credibility is constantly on the line. Many people in comms have had an experience where they gave some earned media coverage to a company that ended up being shady or otherwise a terrible risk. Building relationships and showing a history of providing value is a great way to put yourself at the forefront of journalists' minds when it comes to what sources they use, what stories they cover, and what brands they work with.
One common way that companies can earn media is through generally being good at what they do. If your company or brand is popular, well-liked, and provides quality service, your customers will want to sing your praises on your behalf. This could be a random Twitter mention in a thread, a review on a popular review aggregate site, a mention on Reddit or Facebook, or a referral.
Earned media, contrary to popular belief, is not just press coverage. It's anything that gets the word out, and the power of social proof cannot be understated.
If you are hoping to get some quality earned media coverage for your brand, look no further than this handy dandy guide. We at Prezly are in the business of helping our clients on their earned media journey, so we've definitely seen many fantastic earned media strategies unfold.
However, instead of just telling you about earned media opportunities, we decided to ask those who have successfully obtained earned media coverage how they did it. Below are some examples of brands that have successfully obtained earned media coverage as well as the type of coverage they received.
Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR, essentially means using your brand and platform to give back to society in some way. For some brands, this means donating to charities, contributing a percentage of profits to meaningful organizations, or using their platform to advance a message that betters humanity.
While CSR is a good thing in general, it's also a great media opportunity. Audiences love a company that commits to giving back, and 70% of consumers want the companies they support to care about social and environmental causes.
Our company funds a lot of social initiatives. Donating has helped our business get media a lot of free media attention. Earned media coverage is more impactful as compared to paid marketing campaigns. Earned coverage has an element of honesty to it. Being labeled as a socially responsible business has improved sales. Look beyond marketing. Try to make a difference to society, and the media will notice. Earned media coverage cannot be forced.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is basically mandatory in the current marketing landscape. The ability for your brand to rank highly on AskJeeves and the other, lesser search engines can make or break a company. It goes back to the age-old question: if a tree falls in the woods but isn't ranked on page 1 of Google, does it make a sound?
Many brands are able to leverage search rankings into actual earned media. Having a solid owned media presence through your website and positioning yourself as an authority in a niche means that reporters will come to you as a source. It also means that anyone else looking to make their content rank for your subject is likely to reference you in there somewhere, leading to tasty, tasty backlinks.
The media coverage we received was completely organic. We've focused on our SEO a lot. Our keyword research is top-notch. This makes us one of the top SERP results on our related keywords. Our content matched with the keywords the media outlet was using, earning us our coverage.
The outcome of this earned media coverage was that we saw a surge in organic traffic on our website.
A few tips are:
- Create engaging content.
- Build high-quality links.
- Update your content regularly.
Customers love reviews. They love writing them, reading them, arguing about them. Inc. reports that 91% of consumers read reviews before making a purchase, and 84% of consumers trust reviews as much as they trust their IRL friends.
Positive brand reviews are a great way to get earned media coverage and repurpose that coverage to show potential customers, "Hey, these cool people like us! You might too!"
We got media coverage when happy customers left positive reviews on Google My Business. The best part is that we didn’t even have to tell them to give feedback. They did this solely on the basis of their own satisfaction with our services.
Our organic traffic increased by almost 20%, highlighting a positive outcome of earned media coverage. After all, potential customers are more likely to purchase your products if they see that others like them are already happy with your services.
Here are some tips for growing earned media strategy:
- Establish good relationships with influencers
- Repost the reviews you get
- Build your SEO ranking
We at Prezly talk a lot about building a great working relationship with the media. And we talk about it because it works. Having a strong, mutually beneficial working relationship with journalists will mean that you're not only getting coverage now but also in the future.
If reporters know that they can trust you to be a reliable, authoritative, professional source, they are more likely to keep coming back to you time and time again.
I got high-quality media coverage by creating and maintaining media relationships. We contacted various media outlets and talked to their executives, allowing us to build a culture of trust. Our working relationship goes beyond being confined to the workspace. We throw parties and invite relevant PR professionals. This allows us to network and earn media coverage in the long run.
The outcome of the earned media coverage was that we saw an increase in our website’s traffic. We saw customers from all over the world visiting our page. Our sales skyrocketed, and we saw an increase in our profit margin.
If you'd like to learn more about how to build a good relationship with the media, here are some more resources:
- How to build a better PR media list (+ the best tools & template)
- PR Roundtable: How writers want to be pitched
- How to get press coverage for your business or brand (without being annoying)
Similar to building great relationships with the media, providing value and pitching high-quality content is another fantastic way to get earned media coverage.
To earn coverage on high domain authority sites, our team put together an outreach strategy to target websites whose audiences would find value in our content. By providing valuable content to writers, we're offering them story ideas that (if we've done our job right) are interesting and valuable to their readers.
Content might be king, but the stories and the value you're offering others within your earned media strategy is queen. After all, when you're playing chess the queen has the most moves available to her. With that in mind, always consider what value you're offering. That should drive the story you share with writers.
While the internet has ushered in a slew of new ways to connect with audiences and the media, press releases remain an institution in the comms world.
Sending the right PR to the right journalists and publications can do wonders, and if your news is of interest to their audience, then a press release may be the perfect solution to getting quality earned media coverage, like this brand:
I sent a press release to 5 top financial media outlets that cover private equity. Got published on Private Equity Wire.
Good old fashioned press releases still work. Find your uniqueness.
We've covered the different kinds of earned media out there, and we know that you want that sweet, sweet earned media. So, how do you get it?
Get into the mindset of being niche first, mass media later. As mentioned above it makes developing a solid message much easier, allowing you to avoid turning to mass mail with little connection or substance in the story.
The core purpose of your press release needs to be understood:
The purpose of your press release will determine which stakeholder you need to address and how you will do it.
When you know the audience you know how to address the news you want to deliver, where you want to have it mentioned, and how. (This is media relations at its finest by the way.)
PR and marketing folks have spent many, many hours sending out mass emails to anyone and everyone, with no change in the messaging, just blanket send. Nothing happens. Then they started to focus on the industry media, which, by all means, doesn’t carry the massive AVE and viewers that big media can provide, but going industry-specific helps to build up awareness and market share.
To start on the right foot you need to create a company press kit and include it on your website. Make sure it provides bite-sized information alongside key media assets that can be used throughout various locations such as blogs, articles, and videos. (Try making your own press kit here!)
Below is a collection of some ideas on how you can stick out with your press release. It is mostly made up of 'non-traditional' resources to use with your press release as I focus or place emphasis on the visual side of the press release.
1. Image galleries & embedded videos
Trying to fit any sort of image into an email be it directly added or attached, it always feels like a cluttered mess. It can also be the reason your email ends up in the spam folder or never having the attachment opened.
It helps to use dedicated software.
A tool like Prezly lets you embed images straight into press releases without slowing down your email or landing the message into spam when you pitch. Anyone reading can then download your images to use in their own storytelling without going through the back-and-forth of contacting you and asking for the files – which can often be enough to put off a journo on a tight deadline.
Similar to the point above. You can certainly include a link to your video in your press release, but then you're relying on your reader to a) spot it and b) clickthrough. That's a lot of ifs.
By embedding your video within the content itself, you massively increase your chances of your reader becoming a watcher and getting sucking in to your story.
2. Online newsrooms
Now, you always want to do all of the heavy lifting for your media contacts. Storing all of your archived press releases in one, easy-to-access location can be a goldmine for a journalist. Alas, online newsrooms can be the public relations sanctuary of information for all visiting journalists.
This article that explains why journalists love newsrooms and how to develop yours.
With all of the information being pumped out by social media, newsletters, press release pitches, and so on, journalists can afford to be very choosey on what to write about.
So why is it that some journalists have a hard time finding a story that resonates with their audience? Because amongst all of this information, there is a serious lack of substance behind the claims and numbers being thrown around
For earned media success there are two key points to address to ensure your press release is of interest to your contacts and desired media outlets:
- Relevancy to trending topics – i.e. why they should cover your story now
- Relevancy to previous coverage – this helps you understand who they're writing for
If you cannot make a direct link to both of those, you have a problem.
Relevancy, basically, is the king of earned media. If you only take one learning point from this article then please make it this. Quality and direct relevancy are the greatest ways to earn media coverage.
So, this is where you need to think like a journalist.
As a journalist or a reporter, there are a variety of ways you can get paid – per word, per article, web session-based compensation, and so on. What's clear is that whatever you do, you need to be very, very sure that the story you're telling is going to resonate.
We can talk about earned media strategies and the benefits of earned media all day, but what about the challenges? Why doesn't everyone just pursue earned media and ignore the others?
Pitching stories, building relationships with the media, and researching journalists and publications takes time. Time that could be better spent going viral on TikTok? Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, it will be an investment.
Paid media is faster. Owned media is faster. Both are easier. Can't really argue with that.
You can pitch all day, every day, and you may never get coverage. That is one distinct benefit both owned and paid media have over earned: there's a sense of control over the coverage you get. With owned, you can make more content. With paid, you can buy more exposure. With earned, you're pretty much fully at the whim of the media, your customers, influencers, and anyone else who has something to say.
Unfortunately, when it comes to content that you do not have control over, you don't necessarily get to decide if it's positive or negative. Sometimes you may get a bad media mention or product review, or an unfavorable opinion. You could go viral for the wrong reasons. There's not much you can really do about it beyond reacting with tact and striving to do better if the criticism is valid.
What are your thoughts on earned media? Give us a shout on Twitter. Or see how Prezly can support your mission to get that sweet, sweet earned media coverage with a neat 14-day free trial. Sign up below! 👇
Updated October 2023