Proof Strategies M

Is Earned Media Making A Comeback?

June 22, 2017

That was my question after looking at the 2017 CanTrust Index. Results show that Canadians still trust the news media, ranking it as the second most trusted category of organizations to do what is right for Canada, Canadians, and society, at 50 per cent, and this number is slightly higher (52 per cent) among new Canadians.

Other studies tell a similar story. A recent Reuters survey shows 74 per cent of respondents turn to news brands they trust to verify the source of a breaking story (up 8 per cent from 2016).

But haven’t we been saying that the brave new world of communication is moving away from earned – towards owned, social and, increasingly, paid?

There’s no doubt that traditional media is shrinking – a fact I am reminded of every time someone from our team shares yet another update about newsroom cuts. But while there are fewer media, there’s more news. In fact, we are in a state of content shock, according to a recent Canadian Public Relations Society white paper. Anyone with a smartphone can publish anything about anything, from oppressive governments to bad customer service to unfair employers. “We the people” have taken control. So, aren’t we witnessing a decline – not a resurgence – of earned media?

There’s more to this theory. Organizations have the power to publish, share and target (with paid) their own news – with more precision than ever. Instead of the media, they go to influencers to deliver their message, and who knows what the future holds. Algorithms (aka machines) are already in charge of what we see on our social feeds. Will robots be writing blogs once they, like David in Alien: Covenant, master human qualities like empathy and style?

Before venturing too far into the future, let me take a step back to the past. Early on in my PR career, a client taught me: advertising is what you pay for and PR is what you pray for. In 2004, Al Ries and Laura Ries made a bold (at that time) claim in their book The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR that advertising lacks credibility, and the world’s best brands are born with PR. My takeaway: while the reality is not that black and white, PR (or what today we might call earned) is certainly about credibility and advertising (which we now call paid) about awareness.

Fast-forward to 2017. Studies like CanTrust suggest that credibility is still the currency of influence, no matter what we call it. With so much information out there, our trust filters are on, and we don’t necessarily buy what is “sold” to us. Why would we, right? In the post-truth (or post-spin) era, earning credibility is harder than ever. Leaders who have a vision, experts who speak to the real issues, and, of course, products that deliver on their promises come out on top.

So, should organizations abandon paid? Not at all! Giving earned media the credit it deserves does not take away from paid. It’s not a zero-sum game. Not in the real world, where we seek what we need to know through multiple touch points. In fact, few clients come to us these days for media relations alone. Most are looking for more – at the very least, earned plus influencer relations, social amplification or paid boost. So, why not break the silos and think of paid, earned, shared and owned (the proverbial PESO model) as an expanding pie?

In the meantime, let’s set the record straight. In the business of building credibility, earned media is not going away.