Earned Media More Essential Than Ever in Today's Marketing Mix

Today's savviest PR professionals are obsessed with how people get their news. But let's take it a step further - and identify what newsmakers think is newsworthy. How reporters consume news, what sources they trust and how they sell their own stories should be in the PR professional's playbook. At Ogilvy PR, I lead a national team of media experts who speak with reporters day in and day out, which gives us unique access to speak with top journalists and learn what tools they use and what influences them in a rapidly changing media world.

In June 2015, our team fielded a survey of 118 North American and U.K. based journalists in print, broadcast and social media who cover a variety of topics. The key finding the survey unearthed is that although social media has quickly emerged as a powerful platform for journalists to gather news, traditional media continues to reign supreme as the most trusted news source. These results should be revealing to PR professionals and their clients.

The rise of social media gets most attention today, but the survey gave credence to old-fashioned newspaper and wire services, such as AP and Reuters. When asked where they primarily obtain their news, social media was the most common answer (35%), beating out newspapers (33%), newswires (12%), and TV and radio (11%). But when it came to questions of trustworthiness and influence in driving purchasing decisions and business outcomes, traditional media ranked number one.

These results tell us that first, news outlets and marketers have to leverage platforms like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn if they want to reach their customers. But while social media's power as a distribution system can't be denied, not all stories are trusted equally.

The source for information is crucial, and earned stories in traditional news sources are the most trusted. In simple terms, earned media cannot be bought or owned, it is "earned" organically. The findings from our survey support a recent Nielsen study that also found that earned media is the most trusted source of information worldwide. Traditional outlets would be wise to maintain high standards of credibility, while at the same time amplifying their output on social media.

The power of earned media for the strategic communication of a brand's key messages should not be underestimated, as it lends brands the third-party credibility and validation today's savvy consumer seeks out prior to making purchasing decisions.

A noteworthy result from the survey is that company-driven news was the least trusted source of information. Press releases, company blogs, and branded websites have limited value. Brand managers must acknowledge while it's essential to have these elements, and they must be up to date and factual, these pieces alone will not build trust. Once again, earned media's value is reinforced, and points to the validity of third party credibility, particularly when it's the opinion of an independent outsider, which leads us to the final lesson we drew from the survey.

A third-party speaker, aka an influencer, is ideally someone who is considered an unbiased expert in the area they're commenting on. An oncologist commenting on the latest breakthrough in cancer treatment, or a quote from an Ivy League economist on the Fed's latest moves are going to be more trusted that someone from the inside.

Put all these findings together for a successful communications environment. Earned media supplemented with third-party influencers and distributed on social media channels will boost trustworthiness and increase eyeballs. Used strategically, traditional and new media are symbiotic elements of a communications ecosystem crucial to reaching audiences and making impact.

While social media revolutionized the way we communicate, we must not underestimate the power and credibility that traditional media relations provides. The survey's results give a clear indication of the critical role that public relations - and earned media in particular - has to play within the integrated marketing model. Utilizing social media to spread the word, and earned media serving as one of the most efficient and cost effective ways to build trust, organizations can use this model to build brand equity, grow sales and increase market share.