The Convergence of Paid and Earned Media

paid and earned media

Almost one year ago, a Forbes article titled “The Biggest and Most Important Media and PR Trends for 2018” grabbed my attention. It wasn’t the superlative headline or the notable logo, but rather one of the included “trends.”

The contributor, a well-rounded PR professional included a handful of commentary from other PR professionals, all of which I found myself nodding along with, and one, in particular, I haven’t been able to shake. It read:

“One of the issues I’m watching is the blurring of the lines between editorial content and advertising. While the paid placement approach seems to be picking up steam for many reasons, there’s been a debate about whether it’s an opportunity for the PR industry because some resist this change. As one of the cornerstones of the PR profession is writing and practitioners are already skilled at capturing the client’s voice, it might be viewed as a positive for public relations pros and agencies. However, there are some who believe PR should equal only earned media. That’s where the conflict lies.”

You see, I’ve always believed the two belong in two separate camps. But, fast-forward to the media landscape of 2018 and I find myself questioning that stance. The PR industry, much like its media counterpart, is changing rapidly and with this type of change comes what’s sure to be an evolution of PR as we know today. So, is the merging of earned and paid media on the horizon?

In short, yes I believe it is. Here’s why:

Earned and Paid Are Already Merging

What do this piece on Complex, this New York Times’ feature on Airbnb and this Atlantic package on art and technology all have in common? They are all sponsored pieces backed by household brands. They also are tough to distinguish from true editorial media pieces. They are not set aside from earned stories in the form of a sidebar or on a clearly-marked ‘ads’ page, and as a result, some audiences are unlikely to be able to tell the difference between the two.

Media Entities Are Shifting

PR professionals now outnumber journalists five to one in the U.S. Combine this with the shrinking pool of traditional media outlets — including digital-only brands — and newsrooms everywhere are strapped to produce content with fewer reporters. Which brings us to the age of outside contributors. Publications like Inc, Forbes, and Entrepreneur (to name a few) are largely contributor-based – do a quick scroll through the homepage of each site and look at the byline.

This has resulted in a surge in contributed thought leadership content — company executives offering written commentary to a media outlet. And, while most executives have input on these pieces associated with their names ahead of running on a media outlet, it’s likely the piece was crafted by a PR professional behind the scenes — we’re storytellers, armed with a writing background and already know how to best craft the message. While contributed content pieces are not exchanged for payment like sponsored content, these type of pieces still blur the lines between traditional earned media and owned messaging.

So, what does this mean? I believe we’ll see a stronger pull for PR to be fully interlocked with advertising efforts. That’s already the case for those leveraging the power of paid social media to amplify earned media placements. But, I also believe earned media is here to stay. There’s no substitute to the type of third-party validation an earned media story brings to a brand. The fact that 84% of millennials don’t trust traditional advertising combined with a higher rate of competition to earn quality media placements means more collaboration on content could benefit both the PR and advertising professionals. Are you interested in learning how quality earned media coverage can impact your business? Drop us a line!


About Taylor Harruff

As a director of accounts, Taylor steers strategic direction for her team and B2B clients. With her background in media relations and passion for forging relationships with press, Taylor has led her team to secure impactful coverage in outlets such as Fast Company, Inc., Forbes, CIO and more. Outside of the office walls, you can find Taylor wandering through nature trails with her four-legged companion, Nova, or enjoying a few patio beers.

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