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It’s not a new concept, but it has added weight; why ‘earned media’ is the topic on every CMO’s lips

I think it’d be a funny exercise to run a poll and ask, ‘if you could invent anything that had already been invented, what would you invent’? I’m sure there’d be a lot of cheeky people saying ‘the wheel’. There’d probably be some that said Television, or the Internet. I dare say there’d be more than a few that said Beer. I can’t imagine there would be that many saying – PR. Why then do I get a feeling of déjà vu when I hear about ‘earned media’, as if it’s something new? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind jumping on the odd bandwagon, but what’s the deal? Earned media has been around as long as there has been media. From that time there has been someone trying to influence it. Edward Louis Bernays, born in 1891, is often referred to as being the father of PR. He was once quoted as saying PR is “practically as old as society”. Assuming we can all agree that a central tenant of PR is to influence perception, without owning or paying for the outcome, it’s fair to say earned media and PR have been around for quite some time.

What has changed?

Social media means everyone’s a publisher: Tell you something you don’t know? Sure. Social media drives brand sentiment, enhances consumer engagement and increases brand loyalty, generating an ROI of approximately 3:1. With those returns and so many points of influence, earned social media is critical to stay competitive. Econsultancy and Adobe recently revealed 84% of businesses believe ‘the trend toward earned media via social media marketing’ was quite significant or highly significant to their organisations and this is expected to grow.

Social media means for the first time you can measure influence properly: Traceability of your digital fingerprints means you can see the impact of your influence ripple almost instantaneously. People share and engage with earned media in a way they don’t with paid or owned media. Earned media leverages what you own. Most people believe that equates to space, a website say. Done properly though, its most compelling attribute is its expansion of your intellectual capital.

Social media means the marketing mix has been flipped on its head: Not only that, but Gartner says by 2017 the CMO will spend more on IT than the CIO. Why? Because it will become a profit generator. Earned media will become the focus of all organisations and technology will be an enabler. Paid media will in turn fill the gaps. In other words, it will no longer be the primary strategic force.

What hasn’t changed?

Disconcertingly, budget splits! I had a meeting the other day with someone who works for an organisation where the main business is media buying. They worked in the smaller part of the business focused on earned media via social networks. This person used to work in a PR agency. They shared how much easier it was to get projects off the ground at the new company as you only needed ask for a fraction of the budget, as opposed to the lion’s share. They explained a lot of the reason for this related to their business’s alignment with internal stakeholders within clients that had bigger budgets ie. the brand/programs team, not the PR/social team. What perplexes me is why the biggest thing to happen in marketing in the last 100 years is still at the mercy of advertising creative and its placement. I’m not saying it needs to be the inverse equation, but there must be greater equity to acknowledge the unparalleled importance of earned media. It’s not new, but it’s never been more valuable. No longer is it acceptable for the internal owner of social within a client to have their budget determined by what’s left over. If you hold the purse strings to your marketing budget, ask yourself, are you empowering your people and your agencies to drive the optimal outcomes for you? It’s what I call The Greatest Marketing Challenge.

– My name is Aaron Crowther. Follow me on Twitter @ascommstweeter

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