Earned vs. Paid Media: What’s a Good Mix?
Attention spans are shorter these days. Don’t believe me? If I don’t hurry up and say something that you find interesting, you’re going to stop reading. But you’re not alone. We all pick and choose what we pay attention to and what we choose to ignore.
It’s because we live in a world of constant connectivity: 24/7 access to anything and everything that interests us. Smartphones, laptops, and tablets have made it easier for customers to connect with their favorite brands and vice versa. Combine that with the thousands of messages we see on websites, billboards, television, etc. and it’s easy to see why most companies’ marketing and communications initiatives fall flat. Simply put, we as consumers are bombarded by so much information each day, we’ve trained our brains to only pay attention to the messages that interest us and ignore all the rest.
This can be especially frustrating for marketing executives tasked with making sure the right message reaches the appropriate audience at the optimal time to encourage a sale or purchase. One advantage of living in the digital age is that brands have many forms of media at their disposal, but choosing the correct one can be tricky. Two of the most popular methods to reach audiences are earned media (public relations) and paid media (advertising). Depending on the circumstances and desired outcomes, they can be used independently, or combined to create a multi-faceted campaign.
As its name implies, earned media is favorable publicity that is earned through direct media outreach rather than paying for the exposure. Because it is essentially third party validation (coming most often from a journalist or blogger), earned media builds awareness, adds credibility, and extends influence over time. In fact, a Nielsen study conducted in 2013 found that earned media is the most trusted source of information in all countries surveyed worldwide. The study also noted that earned media is the channel most likely to stimulate a consumer to action.
One drawback to earned media is that it can be difficult to control the message if not handled properly. With paid advertising, brands control all aspects of the message. With earned media, a brand representative must pitch an idea to a reporter, blogger, or influencer in hopes that the message is delivered to the masses in a way that is both pleasing and beneficial to the brand. The best way to mitigate the risk of negative coverage is to have an earned media specialist handle all aspects of media outreach. These professionals not only know how to craft pitches that pique the interest of the media, but also have developed relationships with journalists, further increasing the likelihood of positive coverage for a brand.
Earned media is a great tool when brand awareness is the ultimate goal, but may not be the best approach if an immediate spike in sales is the objective of the campaign. Cultivating relationships with influencers takes a significant amount of time and effort, and gaining the trust of the public doesn’t happen overnight, either.
If an immediate uptick in revenue is the desired outcome of a campaign, traditional paid advertising might be the better option. Several decades ago, brands could only reach consumers through newspapers, magazines, television, radio, and alongside the Interstate highways. These days, ads can be served to a potential customer on their phone as they walk by a store that sells the advertised product. Talk about an immediate call to action!
Although the delivery methods may have changed, good advertising has not. Ads must be compelling, unique, and engaging. Whether it’s in a magazine, served as a banner ad on a website, a video posted on Facebook, or sponsored content that my be disguised as earned media, ads have to immediately grab the attention of a viewer or else they are forgotten, and therefore, ineffective.
As mentioned above, one significant advantage that paid media has over earned media is that brands (or their designated agencies) control 100% of the message in an advertisement. With ads, brands get the opportunity to communicate directly to the customer rather than through an intermediary.
If there’s a disadvantage to paid media it’s that consumers, especially younger generations, have become numb to ads in recent years and value the opinions of their contemporaries much more than they do advertisers. In fact, according to Nielsen, only 50% of consumers polled say they trust paid ads, whereas 92% responded that they trust earned media.
Finding the Mix
When used together, earned media and paid media can be very powerful and effective for a brand. Advertising is a great way to get the attention of a consumer, and once they are aware of a product or brand, earned media can build trust and brand loyalty by adding credibility and third-party validation.
Think of it like this: Advertising allows brands to introduce themselves or a new product to the market and then earned media provides reassurance to prospective customers who are intrigued but might still be apprehensive to purchase.
Still not sure what combination of earned and paid media is right for your brand or product? Get in touch with BBG and we’ll be glad to help you determine the perfect mix.