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Earned media: like anything else you earn, you have to work for it, but the rewards can be awesome.

The term ‘earned media’ refers to favourable publicity (ie: a radio plug or newspaper article) that you haven’t paid for (ie: an ad).

Most often earned media is thanks to the editorial powers-that-be smiling favourably upon your business or organization. It could be that they’ve discovered you themselves – maybe they had a fantastic experience at your restaurant or have been personally touched by the work your organization does. In turn, they’ve decided to mention you in their paper, on-line or on-air or they’ve actually written a whole piece about your biz/organization.

Then again, it could be something you worked really hard towards. For example, back in November 2011 we were helping the group Farmers Matter get organized and recognized leading up to a massive event we had planned. We needed to stress the urgency and relevancy of the group as well as attract event participants from the public, but also – importantly – from the political realm. We sent out news releases and diligently followed up with media sources to ensure they received them and once on the phone, did they have any questions, would they like to do any interviews? Then we set up the interviews, followed up with journalists afterwards, and of course pointed them to our on-line media room and social media pages so they could get more background information and stay up to date. At the event we facilitated intermission interviews, made sure everyone received a media kit, held a post-event press conference (allowing lots of time for one-on-one interviews, photos and soundbites), and followed up post event with phone calls and e-mails to thank them for attending and to see if they needed anything else. We even rescued a politician from what could have ended up a disastrous encounter!

All that to say, we worked hard, but it paid off in spades: the group was mentioned over 50 times in the span of a week in both print, TV, radio and on-line news sources and the ROI of all the editorial material (both print and on-line) amounted to over $50,000. Another subsequent event generated over $80,000 in earned media.

It’s important to remember that earned media has value. Just as you would calculate your return on investment (ROI) for every square column inch (or CPM) of an ad you’ve purchased, there are equivalent ROI values for earned media placements. It can be a little trickier to determine, but it will give you a good ballpark range upon which to gauge the reach and value of that particular earned media element.

There are also ways to calculate earned media values on social media. Some argue those ROI values are a little unclear and their value is open to interpretation, but if you establish internal benchmarks for your marketing/PR goals it should provide you with some insight. The grassroots social media earned media for the Farmers Matter event smashed the print value; there was so much chatter and interaction, it was phenomenal!

Earned media sources can include:

  • any mass media outlets – newspapers, TV, radio, Internet
  • in a variety of formats: news articles or TV/radio news segments, letters to the editor, editorials, on-line or phone polls (which can also utlimately end up in the news)

Can you think of any other ways to generate earned media? We’d love to share your ideas!


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