Earned Media Influence Isn’t Dwindling. The Old Way Of Doing Things Is.

About the Author: Jacqueline Keidel Martinez is a Sr. Public Relations Account Executive at OH Partners. With nearly seven years of experience in PR, her career highlights include: launching viral coverage about a pediatric heart recipient for Donate Life America, driving record media relations numbers for Mayo Clinic Arizona, and developing and executing an award-winning campaign on behalf of the Arizona Office of Tourism. Jacqueline received her bachelor’s degree and MBA from Marquette University in Milwaukee.

For years, public relations professionals have wrung their hands over the pending doom of earned media, and the worrying shows no sign of slowing. It seems that with the start of each new year and the trend pieces that come with it, marketing publications and PR practitioners themselves predict the downfall of media relations. But in spite of the never-ending calls for its demise, earned media influence and the practice of media relations lives on.

So what’s the deal? Are we on the verge of the collapse of one of the mainstays of the marketing mix? Should we decide to ditch our media relations efforts altogether? This PR pro thinks not.

The Public Relations Society of America defines PR as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” Notice that this definition doesn’t dictate how we build those relationships or the tactics involved in doing so, and that’s because public relations is a robust and ever-evolving practice. Our careers require us to keep a pulse on a wide array of trends and current events while wielding a command of language, communication techniques and marketing best practices. While media relations is often thought of as synonymous with PR, the fact is, this tactic is simply one of many in a PR pro’s toolkit. And, like anything, there are right and wrong ways to do it.

Today, there are roughly six PR pros for every journalist, meaning the media landscape is crowded, noisy and tougher than ever to break into. So, as the landscape gets louder, the quality of the story must be stronger. Gone are the days of blasting out a copy-paste press release to dozens of journalists and expecting coverage. Events, once an easy story for local news, are no longer a top priority for stations. A text-heavy pitch without images or video is quickly tossed in the trash by a busy editor. Even new product launches, charitable giving initiatives and record sales years simply aren’t enough on their own to warrant media interest. Today’s PR pros are held to a higher standard.

When we let a client know we’re pitching a story idea, behind the curtain, a whole world of work is happening. A great PR pro is educating themselves about the client’s news and identity to become experts in the client’s business. We are researching target media outlets and journalists by exploring their websites, their previous coverage and even their Twitter accounts. We are amassing high-res images and videos for the reporter, digging into important trends in the industry and developing a timely and robust story idea for one or two specific media contacts, at most.

And beyond our work in story development, seasoned PR pros are tracking and analyzing data and results. They report on how their secured coverage increases website visits, generates leads, reaches target markets and amplifies key messages all to better understand what works, what doesn’t, and how we can make the biggest impact for your brand.

The truth is, earned media isn’t dying and its influence isn’t waning, but the old way of doing things sure is.

This recent brand awareness survey notes that 30% of consumers surveyed typically learn about new products or services online through news and editorial content, and HubSpot reports that the same percentage of folks uses what they can find online to help make a purchase decision. I don’t know any business out there that wants to miss out on reaching 30% of consumers, so targeting online reporting through outlets like BuzzFeed and HuffPost, specialty trade publications and local news outlets is critical in building up your searchable reputation.

While earned media is a critical component of the marketing mix, it is only one piece of the puzzle. Today, the PESO model (paid, earned, shared, owned) is king in public relations. In instances where earned coverage may not be the right fit for a client, a PR practitioner can dip into:

  • paid opportunities, such as sponsored articles
  • shared channels, like posting a tutorial video on the client’s social platforms, or
  • owned content, like a blog post on the client’s website.

The ability to change lanes within the PESO model, find the right space for the client’s message and use various marketing tactics to support and amplify the communications strategy is the hallmark of a great PR pro. But beyond those nitty-gritty measures of success, the best practitioners out there are the ones finding, creating and sharing great content.

So, no, earned media’s day of reckoning is not upon us. But PR pros have a lot more to contend with than they once did. And for those who are unwilling to keep up with trends, stay current on best practices and dedicate the long hours to telling great stories to the right people, it is their influence, not earned media’s, that is dwindling.