Earned Media’s Staying Power

Eddie Kim, CEO

January 30th, 2023

There have been rumblings of the media industry dwindling for decades. One of the questions I get asked most frequently is, “Does earned media still have staying power?” Of course, I’m going to say yes, the media industry isn’t going anywhere. It’s perhaps an oversimplified answer to a question packed with complexity. Here’s why I believe traditional media is never going away.

Signs of life

People reveal who they are in a crisis. Someone told me that once, and I think it’s true. The fact that organizations, celebrities, brands turn to exclusive interviews in the face of impending turmoil is the greatest sign of life for the media industry.

Massive followers and large online communities are powerful, but they lack the regulation and validity that comes with traditional news channels. When a news story is updated, reporters are required to add a note calling out the update. When an influencer updates a caption, they owe us nothing. I would go so far to say that user-driven audiences and social channels actually forced more value on traditional media because people are aware of their freedoms and crave the integrity of more formal media channels.

While the general landscape of media is only becoming more fragmented and diverse, legacy media companies and systems are enduring. Why is that? While celebrity news and gossip almost completely shifted to short form content channels, there is simply no alternative format for business news. Everyone still looks to traditional media as the authority for news that shapes world economies.

As a result, jobs in comms and media are expected to grow over the next decade.

Media’s biggest mistake was metrics.

People know there’s value in media coverage, otherwise they wouldn’t be investing in comms people. But measuring impact historically is nothing short of a landmine. We neglected earned media measurement for so long that it actually impacted the media industry because there was no real way to understand its value.

In fact, the greatest trick advertising ever pulled on PR was getting the industry to use its math. I’m talking about ad value equivalency (AVE). It’s the industry’s much maligned metric that equates earned media coverage with the cost of buying a small box on the page that we’re conditioned to tune out.

Aside from AVE, comms teams use coverage volume as a way to demonstrate success—counting every mention, no matter where it is, or how many people read it, with the same level of value. In what world is a full-length profile on a premium business publication the equivalent to a passing mention on an outlet your core audience doesn’t engage with? Not this one.

And last, and probably least valuable, is impressions. What some tools mislabel as reach. It assumes that the total number of people that visit a publication in a month read every single article published within that 28-31 days. It assumes that the person reading about today’s stock market is also reading the mention of you before moving on to every single wedding announcement. The problem with impressions is that they assume so many variables that the resulting metric doesn’t actually tell you anything meaningful.

This is all to say that our biggest mistake with the media industry was not taking the time to prove its value, only borrowing other misguided assumptions to back up what is really just a gut feeling—earned media is impactful.

The business value of earned media

In the past year alone, you saw countless examples of brands relying on businesses to share their story. From a business perspective, the CEO of Airbnb talked about their PR strategy on earnings calls. The Chief Marketing Officer of Pepsi said that earned media is undervalued by marketers.

Over $17 billion is spent annually on PR. Companies would not be making that investment if it didn’t work. If the business world is investing so heavily in PR, why is the media industry struggling? Without proof of value, it’s hard to monetize what’s most valuable about it. We started Memo out of the belief that traditional earned media measurement does not give it the credit it deserves.

When we see the number of people who actually read an article, we can think about its value in a whole new way. For example, take an article on a premium business publication that got 10,000 readers. How much would it cost to drive 10,000 business-oriented readers to this article through ads? On LinkedIn, that’s a minimum of $8/click–so this article is worth at least $80,000 in paid media dollars.

This value has been hiding in plain sight–we only needed to be able to measure it.

Change is the only constant.

The only thing dead about the media industry is the archaic metrics used to evaluate it. I’m not saying we can capture all the value created by earned media in a single metric, but we can use the tools available to us to usher in a new era of digital measurement. The media industry is evolving and comms along with it. Keep up. 

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