Jan 15, 2018 / in Executive Insights / by Chris Lynch

As marketing budgets grow, much focus has been on digital marketing for owned and paid media. Whether it be a focus on mobile and e-commerce experiences, or more investment in search and display advertising, earned media has often been third in line in the overall marketing mix.

But as consumers become fatigued with advertising and brands discover massive areas of waste in their spend, the time is ripe for communications teams to expand marketing’s focus on earned media.

Recently, I co-hosted a webinar to discuss this topic. Entitled “The Rise of Earned Media: Quantifying Comms and PR Value,” I was joined by James McQuivey of Forrester and Amy Binder of R.F. Binder. In this webinar, we dove into how the decline of advertising has affected and even elevated earned media, as well as how earned media deserves a second look now that we have technological innovations that have changed how we measure results.

Read on for a few key highlights from the discussion, and you can download the recorded presentation here.

Look Out World, Here Comes Earned Media

We have lived in an advertising-centric world. Banner ads, pay-per-click ads, even native advertising all served as successful means for brands to get in front of consumers.

But as we’ve moved into the Age of the Customer, advertising has become less effective. Publishers are struggling to provide value to the advertisers who have invested with them. Advertising spend has become a black hole with questionable return on investment. 

My co-presenter James McQuivey calls this the “end of advertising as we know it.”

Consumers are ad-weary. In fact, 38 percent of U.S. adults have installed ad-blocking software on their computers, which means that advertisers can reach 38 percent fewer consumers than they once could. 

So what can brands do to connect with those consumers, if traditional ways like advertising are now less effective?

The solution has been staring at us for a long time: earned media. And yet, we’ve overlooked this obvious answer simply because we thought scaling it or measuring results was complicated.

That’s no longer the case. We now have the tools to measure earned media from awareness to shopping cart conversions.

The Current State of Earned Media

At the heart of earned media is authentic content. Consumers want knowledge, and content — be it written, via video, by podcast or a number of other means.

As people consume articles, blog posts, and videos, not all sources are created equal. In general, they trust people more who are not in the employ of the brand. When a well-respected journalist or blogger writes about your brand, that single article has the potential to reach thousands of potential customers, some of whom will end up buying your product.

While it can help drive transactional revenue quickly, advertising cannot compete with that level of trust.

In fact, given that only 47 percent of people trust the ads that appear alongside search results, compared to the 67 percent that trust online reviews, we can see that consumer sentiment and where they put their trust is shifting.

Room to Grow

Certainly, we’re not “there” yet in terms of fully harnessing the power of earned media. Today, 70 percent of marketers say they don’t have enough data and analytics (or else don’t know where to find them) to determine how their earned media programs impact financial and business results.

Three-fourths of comms professionals admit that they need to do better at measuring and proving the impact earned media has on business objectives.

Yes, we need to bridge the gap between engagement and outcomes, but the technology and tools to do that, to tie earned media directly to revenue growth, leads generated and shopping cart conversions now exist. So what are we waiting for?

Best Practices for Earned Media Campaigns

Like with any marketing, advertising, or PR campaign, you need to first start with your goals.

What do you hope to achieve with earned media? Drive traffic? Shopping cart conversions? Move visitors into your lead funnel, where you can track data?

Next, develop a strategy for what you’ll measure in terms of earned media. Organic, amplified and placed earned media may all have different values for your brand, so determine which is the most important.

You’ll also want to measure things like engagement, reach, audience insights and conversion, so start with benchmarks on each of these metrics.

Earned Media is a Rising Star

Right now, 81 percent of senior marketers believe earned media has more of a positive impact than paid media. That number will likely increase as brands like yours glom onto leveraging metrics that prove the business value of earned media.

The fact that consumers want third-party validation and content that suits their purposes has triggered what we like to call the “earned renaissance.” Earned media is trusted by consumers, can produce higher engagement and shares, and offers credibility and product validation. 

As communications professionals begin to incorporate more earned media into their overall marketing strategies, we will see its seamless integration into the process, while boosting results.

Earned Media Moving Forward

What worked for your brand to reach customers in the past likely no longer has the impact it once did, especially if your focus was on advertising. It’s time to shift strategies, and earned media is part of your brand’s future in marketing and communications.

While we shied away from earned media in the past because it overwhelmed us, and because we couldn’t figure out how to get buy-in from execs when measuring the behemoth was challenging, now we have no barriers to adoption. The tools are there to deliver what we need through insightful data and metrics.

Let’s stop considering the art of storytelling and the science of data as being mutually exclusive. Through earned media, we can tell human stories that our audience relates to, and we can track their sentiment and reaction to those stories.


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About Chris Lynch

Chris Lynch oversees Cision’s global marketing teams. Serving as Chief Marketing Officer, Lynch is responsible for Cision’s global marketing strategy — spanning communications, product and digital marketing. Previously, he ran product marketing and go-to-market strategy for Oracle’s Marketing Cloud business and also held leadership positions at companies like Badgeville and TIBCO. Based in San Francisco, Lynch attended Northeastern University where he received his Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @cglynch.