The three-part paradigm: Part one, earned media

I spent the first dozen years of my career in the federal government, and like much of the rank and file, I became adept at acronyms, those abbreviations that give insiders a sense that you know the lingo and leave outsiders scratching their heads. I remember that moment of clarity when I finally realized, for example, that NMI was not a popular middle name but stood for “no middle initial.” (Insert the sound of a palm slapping a forehead.)

Suffice it to say that I haven’t been one to loosely toss around acronyms over the years, but these days, there’s one that has taken hold in our shop – and within the profession as a whole – and it’s time to fully embrace it.

I’m talking about EOP.

In my mind, the earned-owned-paid paradigm in public relations has become the industry standard. For us, it’s the starting point for helping our clients tell their stories and raise their visibility in strategic ways. This three-legged approach to PR has all the elements of an effective and cost-efficient strategy – a blending of traditional public relations and compelling storytelling stirred with a modern-day digital elixir. 

I thought I’d dive a little deeper into each of the three legs of the stool, starting in this installment with the E.

E is for EARNED

Earned media is where public relations began, likely on the pages of newspapers. Inserting client stories into the news – print, electronic, online – not only helps raise the visibility of an organization, but it also imbues it with instant credibility. After all, if a news outlet is pointing its considered focus on this particular subject, it must mean that the subject at hand is deserving of such attention.

That’s the long-held premise for the value of earned media – the third-party, objective validation that comes with every news story. Contributing to that validation is the fact that reporters apply their own judgments as to what’s noteworthy. Contrast that with an advertisement, or even an advertorial. Readers know that the words they are reading are being paid for by the company itself, and so they read ads with a healthy degree of skepticism. Will this toothpaste really make my teeth whiter?

A positive earned media placement on the other hand stamps that product with an insignia of truth. But it does not come without its share of risks. Conceding control of a story to a reporter means that the outlet may not agree with your premise and take issue with your key messages. Perhaps his teeth aren’t any whiter, and the resulting story could create more harm than good. 

But if you believe in your story and have the facts on your side, earned media can yield magnificent results. One of our clients recently won a new piece of business when a new business prospect read about its experience in a key trade publication. Our friends at Mercy Chefs, which provides on-the-ground, chef-prepared meals to victims and first-responders in areas of crisis (e.g. hurricanes, floods, even the war in Israel), report that donations to their cause go up when viewers see stories like this from ABC News

The fact is, people respond to earned media placements, and this arrow in the PR quiver is not going away anytime soon. Even so, it’s today just one tactic for compelling storytelling. Next time, we look at the “O” of EOP.

Josh Dare

Josh’s career in communications spans more than four decades. In addition to providing strategic counsel and crisis communications direction to clients, he is the resident Writer-In-Chief, regularly writing op-eds and bylines on behalf of clients that have been published in The Washington Post, The Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Huffington Post, among others.

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