There is considerable discussion around the topics of marketing and advertising, as well as an interesting dialogue about social media’s affect on the age-old Paid vs. Owned vs. Earned Media (POEM) debate.

These discussions tend to revolve around the idea of loyalty, branding, and business development from a creative standpoint. I came across an interesting article in Mashable that stated; “It’s clear that the POEM model is obsolete in the social media age.”


The author went on to describe a more hybrid design that has been created to represent new vocabulary and a digital environment. This article was a fascinating read and I found myself agreeing with their new framework and arguments. However, it made me start thinking about the idea of traditional “earned media” and how, in my mind, it is still a vital piece of any business model or political office.

Earned media represents the publicity or coverage that is garnered through means that do not have any financial impacts to a company’s bottom line. A considerable amount of time in my current position is devoted to increasing coverage, creating a strong brand, and increasing loyalty/support through earned media.

I will be the first note that generating this type of media requires either a considerable amount of relationship building or a story that just simply cannot be turned away. I believe social media has offered a remarkable opportunity for individuals who are seeking to increase attention with a limited budget, such as start-ups.


It’s a methodically tedious process that isn’t easy for the impatient or those who are sensitive to rejection. True earned media (not the sensational story) succeeds only on a foundation of nurtured relationships. Many believe it is just about sending out as much content as humanly possible in a desperate attempt to catch the eye of that one reporter, blogger, or journalist.

I can assure you that this is not the most efficient use of your time. The cookie-cutter pitch rarely works. Let’s take a look at how to strategically focus on earned media success (not widespread fame, I am using “success” as a simple definition of organic generation of coverage).


As many of you may or may not know I am not a huge fan of the “list” style blog post. I should caution that the following outline shouldn’t be perceived as a finite framework that, if implemented, will generate earned media success. This is only a foundation for discussion about how earned media should be viewed in your industry.

Content Isn’t Always King

We have all heard the slogan “Content is King” and we have recently witnessed a restructuring of industry policy from Google who will be focusing more on good content than SEO.

I am a strong advocate for content over popularity and, no matter which industry you operate in, you should focus a considerable amount of effort on the quality of your content. However, in the world of earned media content is not the most vitally important element.

Content without relationships is synonymous with a muddled press release sent out into the digital world with a hope and a prayer.

Relationships are crucial to your earned media success. Although relationships with the media, journalists, and pundits are essential to any communicator or PR professional, there are many others that you need to keep in mind.

For instance, your digital community can be leveraged in ways that redefine traditional outreach and communication product delivery.

This is where the traditional meets the new. It isn’t enough to just send an email to your identified media outlets. Today’s rise in digital connection has left many to believe that is the only way.

There is much to be said about face-to-face introductions, chatting over coffee, remaining invested, and building a relationship over time that is founded on recognizable characteristics – not just an email signature.

Cultivating these relationships redefine your ability to generate earned media. For instance, you may have a wonderful story to tell about an up-and-coming company, but what is your next step?

Having a network of people that you can rely on, people that will pick up the phone when you call are a resource that has stood the test of digital time.

That is the traditional.

The new is the digital communities that you operate in. However, the same principles remain with just a few revisions. It doesn’t matter if you have 10,000 followers on Twitter – sure the aesthetic appeal may be impressive, but again, popularity does not translate into influence.

Time and effort needs to be placed into building and cultivating authentic relationships with your digital audience. Identify who your influencers are and engage with them in a way that reshapes the digital relationship into one that resembles that of a face-to-face encounter.

Content Creation

There is plethora of articles written on what makes content “good”. It’s incredible the amount of prose that is devoted to teaching others how to create captivating content.

In brevity, and from my perception, content that is successful is created on a foundation of emotion – a story that is relevant, tied to something important, creatively detailed, invokes nostalgia, ignites discussion or debate, and is tailored to your audience.

Lindsay Bell prepared a detailed post on Spin Sucks about storytelling, which I strongly recommend reading.

Once you have content that you feel is consumable, it is time to start reaching out to the network that you have spent time establishing.

It’s time to start connecting with the journalists or reporters whom you have been building a relationship with or the blogger who you have become close with over time to achieve one goal: coverage.

It’s important to acknowledge that relationships are nothing without consumable content and content is nothing without dependable relationships

Leveraged and Echoed

Social media has created an echo chamber of sorts. I have discussed GroupThink in depth and Jason Konopoinski has written on the Echo Chamber in detail. Earned media is what we work for, what we strive to achieve, and what we hope occurs on a regular basis. It’s a different kind of currency in the communications field.

Take advantage of any earned media that you are able to generate. Don’t just sit back and admire what you have done. Take every opportunity you have to leverage that positive coverage in an effort to maximize its reach, impact, and benefits.

Social media provides us an incredible tool to achieve just that:

  • Leverage your relationships that you have built via social media to create a discussion.
  • Tap into your network in order to increase the scope of that earned media through sharing and re-sharing.
  • Mirror the coverage across your digital platforms in an effort to sustain appeal and relevancy.

Not a “One-Off” Strategy

I firmly believe earned media is one of the most powerful forms of communication in any industry. It is remarkable how much influence it can have on those it engages.

It operates in a different context in juxtaposition to advertising or certain forms of marketing. The nuance it embodies redefines how it is consumed, shared, and perceived.

However, I also believe it is one of the most difficult and elusive elements of a communication strategy. Many don’t want to put in the time and effort it takes to cultivate and nurture the types of relationships required. Earned media’s sustainability is much different than that of other communications campaigns.

It is not a one-off strategy – it requires a considerable and consistent commitment and investment of human and personal resources. It takes time, patience, and more than just content.

Regardless of how difficult it seems, I firmly stand behind my belief that earned media has a tremendous influence on any objective you are seeking to achieve. It’s a strategy that every company/office should focus on because it can have a long-lasting and deep impact on your brand and its sustainability over time.

Aside from direct benefits from earned media, there are numerous advantages that this type of strategy yields. These include most importantly the relationships that you build with media outlets – relationships that are invaluable during the most trying of times.

What are your thoughts on earned media and how it is generated? Has social media changed it?