Value of Including Earned Media in PR Plans & How to Measure Success

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"Help, I'm confused." Odds are that is the sentiment of many marketing professionals.

The reality is that the changing media landscape is making marketing more messy than ever. Nearly every executive I talk with has questions about the impact of artificial intelligence (AI), fake news, and deep fakes. Combine this digital confusion with the lack of trust the public has with sponsored content and influencers, and last year's marketing playbook looks like a relic.

In the middle of uncertainty, the public often returns to what it knows and what it can trust. It's no wonder Merriam-Webster selected "authentic" as its word of the year. When it comes to public relations (PR), earned media is more powerful than ever. Earned media is defined as the kind of media you don't pay for, specifically news interviews in trusted outlets.

The value of earned media

Each year, Forrester publishes predictions, and the increased value of earned media is one of its findings. "As the line between real credibility and fake blurs further, organizations must double down on marketing activities aligned to tier-one media and ensure that they are seen as reliable and trusted sources for journalists."

One of the issues marketers and PR professionals face is that earned media is difficult to measure. Sure, every firm, including mine, will provide numbers about the reach and value of the earned media opportunity, but these should be taken with a very hearty grain of salt. It is much better for the ideal 100 people to see your earned media appearance than the wrong 100,000 because any media coverage should only be considered successful if it positively influences your ideal audience and supports a broad earned, owned, and paid media strategy.

When your brand or company leaders are mentioned in a top-tier media outlet, you have created valuable content that will help your SEO because news outlets are highly regarded by search engine algorithms. You've also created a valuable asset that can be leveraged in other marketing strategies including social media content, newsletters, video assets, and digital marketing. Recently, one of our national clients, a publicly-traded brand, told our team that the earned media interviews we're securing for them have been the top-performing organic content across all their social media platforms.

Earned media scorecard

If numbers can be deceiving and authenticity is in question, how do you make sure your earned media efforts are effective? Here is a general scorecard to use as you look to add earned media to your marketing plan.

Grade A: Any earned media opportunity that positions your leaders and brand in a positive light. A true win is when you look at a story that is on message and you realize all of your ad dollars could not have purchased this kind of publicity. Ideally, it is published, broadcast, or released in a media outlet that is meaningful to your ideal audience and includes backlinks to your website or social media. Bonus points if your brand is mentioned in a headline because that will appear prominently in social media shares and online searches. Preferably, you are working with a PR agency that secured this media opportunity, to give you maximum control over the topic and angle.

Grade B: A positive earned media opportunity that is created by a media member contacting you. Whenever you are responding to a media member's questions, you automatically have less control over the direction of the story.

Grade C: Your brand and leaders are mentioned in a publication that also mentions your competitors. While the mention is nice, it may not move the audience to choose your brand over any others.

Grade D: Any publicity that paints your business or leadership in a negative light resulting in a less-than-positive audience sentiment. While you could recover, it will take work and won't happen overnight.

Grade F: Any media coverage that is so damaging to your brand, that you are forced to deal with a crisis that could financially impact your business.

In the end, modern-day earned media strategies rooted in authenticity are making a comeback just like vinyl records. At first glance, it looks outdated, something that previous generations relied on because they didn't have other options. Take a closer look and notice how the product is improved, and even though there are many other options, amid instability, there is something powerful about the reliability of a medium that has stood the test of time.

Kristi’s article was originally published in Inc. on Dec. 19, 2023.