Earned Media is Broken

By Chuck Lapointe ● December 9, 2015

What is Earned Media?

Let’s start with the obvious. Earned Media, or what is essentially free publicity, is the biggest form of promo currently used by pretty much every PR firm in the country.

Like, huge.

Small businesses testing out the marketing waters also rely heavily on Earned Media to get cheap attention, assuming that publishers and media will distribute their story for free.

Traditionally, this model has held up for decades, but Earned Media now is largely broken, and doesn’t actually reflect the reality of publishing in the information age of today.

Earned media is no longer sustainable for publishers.

Why is it so hard for brands and PR agencies to acquire Earned Media with major publishers in 2015? Because publisher groups are starting Sponsored content divisions, and so should you.

For the longest time, online publishers have relied almost entirely on banner campaigns to generate revenue. But now, with the growing popularity of ad blockers and ad blindness from users, banners will cost an estimated $22 billion globally in 2015 (Pagefair).

The Big disconnect.

After speaking with many different PR people, and seeing what type of work we could collaborate with clients on, I realized there was a big disconnect between both parties.

One thing that stood out the most was that many public relations companies and agencies rely almost entirely on Earned Media. Then they look to statistics provided by databases such as MRP (Media Relations Rating Points), an online database similar to ComScore (for ad buying agencies) for updated ratings of most publications / influential authors in Canada. Only problem is, Earned Media stats suck.

The problem with Earned Media statistics.

PR strategists use total reach rather than specific reach to measure the success of their initiatives. They then report back to the client with X number of people reached, even though this is largely inaccurate. Earned Media reports sent to clients only show the total reach of the publication rather than the specific audience / traction a piece of content actually gained among desired demographics. This leads to many clients investing in PR campaigns in the hopes of getting free media, which someone defeats the concept of Earned Media.

Where Earned Media gets really tricky.

Publishers rarely care.

From my understanding, Earned Media is the ideal scenario where your product or campaign is so “outside of the box” that major media outlets pick it up and talk about it for free.

I can tell you from experience, 1 story for every 250 pitched to our editorial team fits this criteria.

Through the massive pool of content produced on a daily basis by hundreds of sites, it takes something pretty revolutionary for a media outlet to talk about your business/product these days. Even more so when you’re speaking to millennials and your content is injected in between pictures of last night’s party, and your friend’s dog. While publishers are being increasingly choked out by diminishing revenue from banner ads, user attention becomes even more difficult to cultivate.

5 Advantages of Paid Media vs. Earned Media.

  1. Enhanced content tracking
  2. Custom brand messaging through story-telling
  3. Your product doesn’t need to be that great, as long as the story is
  4. You choose where you want to appear, focus is on context
  5. Spend money on guaranteed distribution, not hopeful distribution

Educating clients about the benefits of Paid Content.

At the end of the day, content isn’t free.

Being talked about by media outlets as Earned Media isn’t as effective as it once was.  Publishers across the world are now developing content-creation divisions specifically dedicated to producing creative and cost-efficient ways to promote businesses.

Plenty of publishers are proving this model actually works and are not afraid to show it. Inquire about Sponsored Content to your local publisher or major newspaper, and you’ll be surprised at how effective these campaigns can be for your brand.



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Narcity Media creates & shares engaging content for millennials. We’re a Canadian agency & network of sites that develop highly targeted visibility campaigns for clients & agencies through sponsored content & social discovery.