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The importance of earned media and quality storytelling in 21st century comms

Date Posted: 2 October, 2018
The importance of earned media and quality storytelling in 21st century comms

When Richard Edelman speaks up, people tend to listen. Heading one of the largest communications agencies in the world apparently earns you a certain amount of kudos. And one area Edelman has been particularly vocal about is the importance of earned media in a world that’s becoming increasingly paid.

Edelman made his position clear on the subject when he explained to PRWeek: “It is a world of owned, shared, earned, paid ideas – and the order is rarely paid-first. Even if we are hired as advisors on paid, we still come at it from an earned perspective”.

What the reality is for traditional PR has been argued every which way, with some predicting the death of earned media. Sir Martin Sorrell’s omission of PR, as well as ad agencies, from a recent pitch to investors highlights the lack of faith in some quarters.

Others believe that it still has legs. Richard Pinder, the chair of Universum, said at a recent PRCA event that those in the advertising industry see PR as currently having its time “in the sun”. He points out how PR professionals are often called upon to publicly share their thoughts on different topics, something ‘peak advertising’ enjoyed in the ‘90s. Pinder’s comments suggest it isn’t all doom and gloom, and that the industry still wields some authority.

The truth is that earned media and storytelling have lost none of their relevance. There’s no doubt that agencies are having to adapt as PR and marketing continue to become more aligned, though achieving quality earned media, and having an engaging story underpinning all of your communications, has never been more essential to get your brand heard.

Traditional PR has evolved

Before we move on to the specific values of earned media and storytelling, let’s be clear on something; PR is evolving.

Social media, influencer marketing and content marketing has quickly become one big communications mashup, with PR agencies finding themselves in a good place to incorporate additional services. The shift is largely a response to brands looking to simplify their strategies, but it also makes sense to integrate and repurpose content to share across a wide range of channels from one source.

Perhaps the most disruptive recent trend has been the rise and rise of influencer marketing. A recent PRWeek investigation found that, among the senior marketing and communications individuals surveyed, almost half (46%) will spend at least 20% of their budgets on influencers. Even more striking is that 23% said they’d spend 81-90% on it this year (2018).

For a number of years now, traditional PR agencies have been running effective social media campaigns for clients. As the importance of social media has increased, and the platforms have become more monetised, agencies have had to up their game however when it comes to staying on top of  the latest trends and continue delivering for clients.

The lines between digital marketing, including influencer marketing and social media, and PR are continuing to blur, and our understanding of ‘traditional PR’ is changing with it.

Earned media remains valuable

When we talk about earned media, we aren’t just referring to strict PR coverage. Producing content that is subsequently featured on blogs, racking up the social media interactions; any work you do that is then shared by others on its own merit is classed as earned media.

One of the benefits is its authenticity in the eyes of the consumer. Recent research from Podium showed that over 93% of people are influenced by online reviews when buying something, proof that earning your influence online is hugely beneficial to your brand.

Achieving quality online coverage for clients is also key to improving their SEO. As the algorithms used by search engines continue to develop, a legitimate online presence is valuable.

Experts in SEO, Moz, explains how: “As a general rule, it’s wise to build as vast and varied a link profile as possible, as this brings the best search engine results. Any link building pattern that appears non-standard, unnatural, or manipulative will eventually become a target for advancing search algorithms to discount”.

By no means an exhaustive list of benefits, what is clear is that the importance of earned media remains, and it should continue to be an integral part of your communications strategy. 

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Quality storytelling and information is key

Whether it’s earned or paid media you’re focussing on, there’s one thing that should underline everything you do; good storytelling.

In last year’s USC Annenberg’s 2017 Global Communications Report, digital storytelling was ranked as the most important trend over the next five years. There’s no strict way you should be telling your stories, though getting them right is key to promoting your brand’s message effectively.

To round things off, let’s take a look at an example. Famous microphone brand, Shure UK, provides us with a great instance of a consumer tech brand nailing its earned and paid media, all underpinned by an interesting story.

Teaming up with Bonafide Magazine, the company created a mini documentary series themed around outside broadcasting to raise awareness of a new product.

Music producer Paul White was brought on board for the first video in the series, above. He used Shure’s latest microphone to record sounds captured from the Maunsell Sea Forts on the Thames. These structures were home to the country’s first pirate radio station, adding some further intrigue to the content and the storyline. The sounds created were then used as the music for the films.

Smashing its KPI of 30,000 views by achieving over 150,000 in the first two weeks as well as achieving earned media coverage on sites such as Campaign, it’s the underlying story that led to Shure securing such strong results, and allowed the microphone brand to rise above the noise.


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