What Is Earned Media? A Complete Guide.

Earned media strategy is all about the long game.

Written by Hal Koss
What Is Earned Media? A Complete Guide.
Image: Shutterstock
Matthew Urwin | Jan 17, 2023

While many successful companies invest in paid marketing efforts, sometimes the most effective way to draw attention to your brand is through earned media.

Earned media refers to the unpaid press coverage or publicity you receive but don’t pay for. Besides being free advertising, earned media can also help you reach new audiences you otherwise may have missed. So it’s important to generate as much of it as possible — especially if you’re bootstrapping a company or have a limited marketing budget.


What Is Earned Media?

Commonly thought of as “publicity,” earned media includes any kind of press coverage or media attention a person or brand receives that’s produced by a third party for any reason other than being paid to do so. A magazine article that profiles a company’s CEO, a TV segment featuring a brand representative and an online product review are all examples of earned media.

What Is Earned Media?

Earned media refers to the unpaid press coverage or publicity that a brand receives, either in a newspaper article, TV segment, product review or some other medium.

Earned media is different from paid media and owned media. Paid media refers to any kind of media that is paid for, like an ad that runs on Google, or a sponsored social media post. Owned media includes content a brand creates and oversees, such as its own blog or social channels.

The distinguishing trait of earned media is that it is neither paid for nor created by the brand itself.


Benefits of Earned Media

Besides the swell of pride that comes with seeing your company mentioned in the pages of a national publication, earned media offers businesses several tangible benefits:


Earned Media Is Cost-Effective

The journalists who write about your brand, the people who mention you on social media and the YouTubers who review your product all do it for free. (If they were paid to do it, that would make it sponsored content or affiliate marketing.)

That being said, earned media often does come with associated costs. Many companies and startups purchase media lists (to get the email addresses of journalists to pitch) and social listening tools (to identify influencers whose radars they want to get on). Some also send free products to reviewers with the hopes they’ll be inspired to discuss them. And still others pay to retain the services of public relations firms that boost their marketing activities.

Despite these expenses, earned media campaigns can draw in more customers without taking huge chunks out of your marketing budget, minimizing the impact of any associated costs.

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Earned Media Offers Credibility

Company blog posts can describe how great a product is and try to differentiate you from your competitors. Your social media presence can show off your cheeky personality and design chops. But neither provides a stamp of validation from a neutral, third-party source.

Earned media achieves this. The publicity it brings can legitimize you as a notable player within your category. It doesn’t even have to be an endorsement or a positive review — acknowledgment alone drives awareness. It makes your brand more authoritative in the eyes of consumers, many of whom are suspicious of advertising but receptive to the freely held opinions and considerations of tastemakers and experts.

“What makes the press have so much more power with the consumer is you can’t force the press to write about you,” said Helena Price Hambrecht, co-founder and co-CEO of Haus, a direct-to-consumer alcohol brand.

In this way, earned media is similar to influencer marketing — it allows brands to capitalize on the trust and goodwill publications have with their audiences.

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Earned Media Reaches Wider Audiences Faster

Marketing campaigns often chew up time and resources within marketing teams, but earned media can relieve some of this pressure. When publications and consumers share positive content about your company, they’re essentially supporting your marketing department.

The ultimate effect of earned media is that articles, social media posts and online reviews can reach thousands of consumers through word of mouth in a short period of time, outpacing any kind of brand-sponsored marketing activity. And the best part is that your marketing team doesn’t have to lift a finger.


Types of Earned Media

While earned media traditionally refers to press coverage in newspapers and TV, the advent of the internet and social media means it can be found in a diverse range of places, both in print and online.


Written Publications

A common way for a brand to gain publicity is through an article written by a magazine, newspaper or other publication. While landing a spot in a renowned source like Fortune is a huge win, don’t underestimate the power of a local publication mentioning your company.


Social Media Posts

If someone shares a post about your company or product, that post carries weight because of the relationships that user has with their social network — family, friends and more distant connections. Tapping into these networks builds more authenticity around your brand and can lead to faster brand awareness.


Online Reviews

Every company likes to promote its products, but not every company earns a positive review. Consumers often rely on reviews from customers to gain insights before trying a product or service. ConsumerReports, Angi, Yelp and Glassdoor are examples of sites where consumers may go to learn what others have to say about your business.


Broadcast Media Features and Interviews

Getting speaking time as part of a segment feature or interview is a great way to spread your brand while giving consumers an individual personality to associate with it. Besides being invited to talk on a TV show, you could also be interviewed on a radio show or join a podcast episode to discuss a topic relevant to your business.


8 Tactics to Get Earned Media Coverage

Getting positive media coverage is difficult. Unlike paid media, you can’t buy it. And unlike owned media, you can’t control it. Earned media by its nature takes longer and is less transactional, so if you want to make it part of your marketing strategy, you need to get, well, strategic about it.

While there’s no silver bullet for generating earned media, brands that want a better chance of getting it should consider these approaches:

Earned Media Coverage Tactics

  1. Pitch relevant publications and reporters.
  2. Tell a simple, specific story.
  3. Provide unique data.
  4. Cultivate long-term relationships.
  5. Develop your industry expertise.
  6. Ask employees to share your content.
  7. Deliver excellent customer service.
  8. Appeal to tastemakers.


1. Pitch Relevant Publications and Reporters

You need to identify reporters who will find your pitch newsworthy for their readers. That means the pitch is a match for their publication and their beat, or area of coverage. Read multiple recent stories the reporter has written. This way, you can determine if it would make sense for them to cover your story and tailor your pitch so the angle aligns with the types of stories they write.

“You have to be micro-specific with your pitch,” Lamont Johnson, a founding partner at the PR firm The Art Department, said.

Curating a list of journalists whose beats are relevant to your brand — and calibrating your pitch to fit with their sensibilities — takes time and effort. But it’s worth it.


2. Tell a Simple, Specific Story

Reporters are interested in stories, not topics. Boilerplate press releases, lists of new product features or nebulous opinions held by executives are not stories — even if they seem related to the reporter’s beat. To increase the odds of getting media coverage, pitch your startup within the context of a larger trend or story.

Christina Shatzen, head of communications at Haus, puts it this way: “Part of it is taking a step back and thinking about how we can be additive to things that are naturally happening in the space, versus trying to constantly frame the story around Haus specifically. ... It’s more interesting to be part of a bigger narrative that shows where culture is headed.”

3. Provide Unique Data

Another way to increase your chances of getting media attention is by providing original data about emerging trends, said Victoria Chow, communications lead at Public. Data adds authority to anecdotes, verifies fads, debunks widely held assumptions and makes for a more compelling read. For those reasons, media outlets are often more receptive to accepting pitches that contain original data.

Companies find original data by conducting surveys or examining the behaviors and activities of their users. Those insights can be sharpened into compelling story angles that media outlets find interesting.


4. Cultivate Long-Term Relationships

The quickest way to get media attention is to buy an email list and blast everyone on it with pitches. But a more sustainable approach is to find relevant reporters and develop relationships with them.

“The P in PR is patience,” Suzanne Struglinski, public relations manager at media company Industry Dive, said. “It’s very much a long game.”

So check in with reporters from time to time, even if you don’t have anything to pitch. Ask how you can be helpful and offer to be a resource. You never know when they are going to write something you’re a fit for.

If you read a story by a reporter that feels relevant to your company, follow these steps when reaching out to them:

  1. Tell the reporter you read the story and found it insightful.
  2. Explain you want to make sure your company is on their radar.
  3. Let them know you’re available to talk with them as a resource if they plan on writing about this topic again in the future.


5. Develop Your Industry Expertise

A sure method for cementing yourself as a credible source is by becoming an expert in your industry. You can publish thought leadership on social media, write a weekly personal blog or start a newsletter on a niche topic.

Producing accurate and insightful content on a consistent basis can slowly earn trust from publications and audiences. Once you’ve solidified your reputation, outlets may be more likely to quote your writings, interview you for articles and list you as a top source within your field.


6. Ask Employees to Share Your Content

An easy way to spread the word about your company is by leveraging employees’ connections with those outside your company. Ask employees to share a company article with their networks on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms.

While employees are extensions of your company, the hope is that their connections will interact with your article, post or product. If they have a positive experience, they may share this with connections who were previously unaware of your company.


7. Deliver Excellent Customer Service

Positive customer reviews go a long way in raising your brand’s status since they come across as more objective and authentic to consumers. Emphasize to your employees the value of top-notch customer service in every interaction, such as emails, in-person conversations and responses to social media inquiries.

Be sure to monitor common review sites as well and make any adjustments to your customer service strategy based on positive and negative reviews.


8. Appeal to Tastemakers

Sometimes the fastest way to reach larger audiences is through tastemakers — people who have a major influence on trends or what’s considered fashionable. On social media platforms, tastemakers are the ones who have followers that number in the thousands.

Once brands come across their niche’s tastemakers, they often send them a free product to try out or some company swag to show off — anything to get them talking authentically and enthusiastically about the brand with their followers and connections.

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