The Earned Media Opportunity Cost

According to eMarketer, editorial owned media spending on mobile grew 31 percent between the fourth quarter of 2013 and first quarter of 2014 to consume a whopping 68 percent of total budgets. Such owned media mostly took the form of corporate blogs (46 percent) and branded editorial sites (23 percent).

With owned media occupying nearly three-quarters of media budgets, an additional 29 percent was allocated to sponsored editorial content, i.e. branded content hosted by a professional publisher’s site.

That means a measly 3 percent of spending was allocated to earned media, presenting a HUGE opportunity for brands fully committed to a holistic content strategy. Winning earned media is the hardest of the three types, which is why fewer people are reaching for the high-hanging fruit.

If It Was Easy, Anybody Could Do It

What makes earned media so hard is precisely what makes it so valuable: there’s a gatekeeper (see: editor) deciding what is and is not valuable to their audience – and they’ve got the cream of the crop to choose from.

Because these gatekeepers only let the best pass through, their audience trusts them and habitually turns to them to help sort through all the digital noise.

To win at earned media, you must figure out who really wants what you’ve got, find out where it makes sense for them to consume it, and start courting the gatekeeper. Here are a few tips to get on their good side:

  • Segment your media list, and then segment it again … and again. Highly targeted outreach lists ensure what you’re offering is actually valuable to the audience and lets you make a compelling argument for why your pitch is relevant to them.
  • When you actually reach out to your highly segmented media list, make sure you’re offering something unique. If you’re pitching something that could be mistaken for old news, try to position it with a good hook.

Moreover, the eMarketer article highlights the fact that earned media also saw the highest engagement rates, with sponsored and owned media coming in second and third respectively. This exacerbates the (challenging, but also rewarding) opportunities being left on the earned media table. Brands aren’t just spending fewer resources on earned media, they’re spending more to engage less elsewhere.

The Earned Media Opportunity Cost

So what happens if you follow the trend and continue to invest the majority of your resources in owned and paid content only?

By neglecting earned media, you’re forgoing the long-term benefits of third party endorsement and its influence over a receptive audience.

Unless you are already a behemoth brand with a reputation for highly consumable content, you probably haven’t yet built the audience you need to make all your owned media efforts worth your while.

And unless you have a gifted creative team that can develop sponsored articles as well as this Netflix/Orange Is The New Black paid post, sponsored articles will be nothing more than a waste of your funds.

Speaking of funds, sponsored editorial content – the bucket taking 29 percent of media spending – isn’t an inexpensive use of funds. An article like the Netflix post mentioned above can cost tens of thousands of dollars, yet content marketers are spending more than twice as much to generate content for properties they own … despite not yet garnering an audience to see it.

Achieving Equilibrium

Things are clearly out of balance, likely due to a cart-before-the-horse scenario. Instead of disproportionately spending your budget to create owned media, enterprises should strive for equal attention to owned, paid and earned media.

Start by having a clear company mission and vision with a great product to match. Next, convince your potential customers that you understand their pain points (and that you know how to fix them) through your owned media. Stun the media with case studies of your performance and the wealth of knowledge available for consumption on your blog to obtain earned media. Partner with newsrooms and publications to create branded content that resonates with their audience, in turn growing your own audience and lead-nurturing list.

Earned, owned and paid … you can’t effectively have one without the other. How do you strive for inbound balance at your organization?