Inside the Profession Thought Leadership

The Rising Ranks of Earned Media

To paraphrase one of my favorite advertising slogans: “We build our image and credibility the old-fashioned way . . . we EARN it!”

And, if industry projections are any indication, “earning” is gaining greater recognition as the most cost-effective means of building brand credibility. Recent findings from eMarketer indicate that U.S. spending on earned media across advertising, marketing and PR is set to rise significantly in 2011.

eMarketer’s survey of brand marketers, agencies, technologists and digital industry insiders projects that 24 percent of agencies play to significantly increase unpaid or earned media investments for 2011. Meanwhile, only 15 percent of brand marketers plan to do the same.

U.S. spending on earned media is set to rise in 2011 — via eMarketer

What does this mean for the public relations profession in its ongoing sparring with advertising and marketing departments for precious dollars? Does this reflect an overall industry trend, or is this a short-term reaction to a slowly-evolving economic turnaround?

Earned media is the province of public relations; it has comprised the core of our industry’s media-relations work for decades. And the fact that this report comes on the heels of strong earnings reports from several major PR and ad holding companies is all the more reason to believe that 2011 will, indeed, be a strong year for PR.

And, if responses presented in the eMarketer report are any indication, good times do lie ahead for proponents of earned media, with 76 percent of agencies and 61 percent of brand marketers projecting “significantly or somewhat increasing” budgets for earned media. This is in contrast to 66 percent and 58 percent, respectively, for paid digital media and unchanged levels  for traditional paid media (14 percent and 14 percent, respective).

As a long-time practitioner who has vied with advertising colleagues for a piece of the budgetary pie, as well as managed the advertising and public relations programs for organizations, I see a glimmer of hope.

My hope (dream?) is that this trend indicates a growing recognition of the true value of public relations as a means of building credibility for a product, service or organization.

If nothing else, I am constantly hammering my PR students with this concept, so I’m encouraged to find support for my pronouncements that “public relations is viewed as delivering a more credible message because the support . . . third-party endorsement, if you will . . . is earned and not bought.”

The challenge remains, of course, to cut through the jumble of competing messages, both digital and traditional, with clear and concise communications on behalf of our clients or employers using those skills that have always identified our profession. And that, to me, is the “common sense” aspect of this discussion.

At the end of the day, regardless of the means by which your message was communicated, did it reach the target audience(s) in an understandable fashion with a clearly-expressed call for action?

To close with another quote, this time from Edward L. Bernays’ seminal 1961 book, “Your Future in Public Relations”: “Public relations does not mean selling a product, an idea or a personality. Instead, it depends fundamentally on doing — action and deeds that are geared to public understanding and acceptance. Words are only incidental to the process.”

About the author

Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA

Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA, is Associate Professor of Communication (Undergraduate) at Curry College in Milton, MA. Prior to his move into academia, Kirk practiced nonprofit and government public relations and marketing for more than 35 years in the US as well as Asia. Accredited by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), Kirk was inducted into PRSA’s prestigious College of Fellows in 2009 and is one of just two actively-teaching college professors in Massachusetts to have earned this distinction. You can read more of Kirk’s musings at his blog “A Professor’s Thought” and follow him on Twitter @KirkHazlett.

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