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Posted on 05.03.2016

Earned vs. Paid Media: What’s Right For Your Business?

For most companies looking to enhance brand awareness and drive business, media coverage can be an important part of their strategy. Having an unbiased reporter – especially one working for a respected media outlet – write about your company or quote your executives lends a unique kind of credibility.   

But as we’ve discussed on this blog in the past, securing earned media coverage is becoming increasingly difficult. And that difficulty is one of the many reasons the media industry is seeing a rise in paid media content.

Here’s a quick look at how the two media types stack up against each other – and how to determine which one, or what mix of the two, might be right for your business.

Earned Media

Sometimes referred to as “traditional media,” these are the articles and mentions of your company that appear within a media outlet’s reporter-generated editorial content. It’s the story quoting your top executive on an important industry trend, the blog post about the latest big private equity investment in your company, the review of your newest product. Your company did something impressive and the New York Times interviewed you and wrote about it? You earned it.

That’s not to say earned media opportunities come knocking on your door. Most reporters are deluged with story pitches and interview offers, on top of maintaining their established contacts and relationships. It can be difficult for companies to cut through the noise to get so much as an opened email, let alone a returned phone call or interview. And that’s why many businesses invest in a communications partner with expertise and a track record media relations.

Yes, I said “invest.” Any media relations campaign, and especially those for a company that is relatively new or unknown within their target media, requires time and effort to be effective. Very rarely can anyone land a big, splashy story overnight. But with the right approach, you can build solid media relationships that prove fruitful over time. More on that here, here and here.

The only downside to earned media is that you have no control over the finished product. As a matter of ethics (and newsroom policy, usually), the vast majority of reporters do not share drafts of their stories or written quotes for their sources to review. All you can do is be as clear as possible, as on-message as possible, and hope for a favorable outcome.

Paid Media

As the name suggests, paid media refers to media content you pay for. There are many types of paid media, such as advertorial, sponsored content and “native advertising.” There are nuances to each, which you can begin to explore here. Suffice it to say, paid content gives you the opportunity to deliver the message you want, usually with little editing from the media outlet, to an audience you want to reach.

Some paid media opportunities are even packaged to provide additional advantages, such as a prominent placement for maximizing views, or capturing readers’ email addresses for lead generation – which can be particularly useful for a company’s ongoing marketing and sales efforts.

However, paid media comes with a price tag, and it can be hefty depending on the media outlet and nature of the opportunity.

What to do?

Although I’d argue earned media still has an importance and cache that you just can’t buy, there are times when paid media is a great – or even better – option for a business than trying to land an earned story in their industry’s top publication. Moreover, if your budget will support it, a two-pronged strategy can be doubly effective in helping you reach your business goals. The right media strategist will contemplate both before determining the appropriate mix.

For more on media relations and strategic public relations, visit our media relations page, here.

Erin George is a Senior Account Supervisor at Lovell Communications. Connect with Erin at erin@lovell.com.

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