Earned media is the modern term for news driven editorial that portrays your product, company or issues in a positive light.
Earned media is highly valued. The fact that it is editorial means its impact on readers is different to paid content or advertisements. It’s passed the scrutiny of the editors for its news value and therefore is regarded – to a greater or lesser degree – as independent.
PR practitioners have broadened their skills in recent years as integrated campaigns have come to include elements of owned, shared and paid media.
But it’s the news sense of PR professionals that is most valued. Their ability to position clients or products in a way that makes them newsy and then leverage their editorial contacts into a story that creates a ‘win – win’. That being a good and compelling story for the journalists and (hopefully) a positive reference to the client or their issue.
But positioning stories takes a lot of work. It’s about developing the full package for journalists so they can easily see the story come to life and imagine how well it works for their own publication. That package includes case studies, experts, new research and real breakthroughs to drive news.
This kind of ‘package’ has worked for decades, not because it is a package arrived at or developed by PR people – but because it is the kind of package journalists are looking for. It’s not our package. It’s their way of packaging things. So we’ve got to meet the needs of journalists.
But it’s risky. It’s unpredictable. And there are no guarantees.
There are lots variables that can knock this earned media train off its rails.
Sometimes the case study gets ‘cold feet’ and is not as strong with media as they are when being briefed by consultants.
Or it can be the timing. The Covid 19 pandemic is generating some real challenges currently to secure strong editorial stories. Reporters and news outlets are investing so much of their resources in covering COVID-related developments that they’ve got less resources than normal to cover other issues
So who takes the risk in trying to deliver great editorial outcomes?
The simple answer to the question is that the paying client takes the risk.
The client makes the decision – in consultation with its PR team – that the earned media results are achievable based on the news value of the stories being promoted. The client decides it’s got the right team working on the appropriate mix of earned, owned, shared and paid media.
It’s like betting at the races. Think of your PR consultant as the form analyst. They are advising you which races to bet in and which runners represent the best value. They’re not going to advise you to bet on every race. They’re trying to help you get a good return.
But it’s ultimately your money.
Or if you don’t bet at the races think about your PR consultant as similar to your financial adviser. They’re going to advise you how to spread your risk and which stocks represent a likely return on your investment.
You can’t be going to your financial adviser and saying “I only want to buy those stocks that go up and I want you to guarantee that”. It’s your money and it doesn’t work that way.
When a good earned media strategy comes off, it’s the best marketing and public affairs investment you’ll ever make.
But don’t try to pass the risk off to your agency or your PR team. It’s your risk and you need to own it.
You can mitigate it by working with an agency that knows what it’s doing. Or share the risk by leaning a bit more into paid, owned or shared media strategies.
You can educate yourself about editorial risk and outcomes. For example, by learning that a new product is rarely news and a local development is not for national media
You can manage that risk. But once you invest resources in trying to drive earned media stories, the risk lies ultimately with you.