All earned media, like all public relations efforts, are not the same. To start thinking about the broad categories of earned media today, let’s go back to basics. Here’s the gist:

  • Broadly, the primary purpose of media is to generate audience, to start buzz, to create awareness. Media brings people to your doorstep, curious to learn more.
  • The purpose of all marketing is to transform those crowds of mildly curious folks into deeply interested folks, people who want to engage you, people who want to do business with you.
  • The purpose of all sales is to turn that engagement into revenue, to close deals, to get customers to buy.

Sometimes, the process is so fast that it’s indistinct, but you should know it’s still there. For a child standing in line at the grocery store, the point of sale display with the packet of candy is media, marketing and sales all at once, but there’s still a process there. Take away the rack (media placement) and no stimulus occurs, no audience is created, and no marketing can occur. Put the candy behind a locked glass window (removing the instant sale) and you create audience and an engaged lead, but no sale.

While media’s primary purpose is to generate audience by creating awareness, there are other types of earned media that you can create to serve the parts of the funnel. Let’s look at a few examples.

Sales-focused media

Sales-focused media includes anything that is likely to help someone close the deal or make the transaction happen. Think about what a salesperson needs to close a deal – trust, authority, credibility, the right offer for the right product to the right person. While PR and earned media can’t do very much about the transaction itself, it can contribute a great deal towards creating credibility. If you have two products or two companies that are functionally equivalent, but one has a shelf full of awards, could that be part of what helps you make a decision? You bet. If you have two salespeople pitching their wares in the marketplace and one of them has a wall full of media clippings and positive coverage of their offering, could that sway your choice? It happens every day. On top of that, every salesperson in the world is always looking for additional reasons to stay in touch with their prospects, additional valid opportunities to touch base with them and remind them of the sales opportunity. Positive, sales-focused PR gives them that opportunity. Sales-focused PR is all about helping to create commitment.

Marketing-focused media

Marketing-focused media does the same, but for marketing professionals to help them convert audiences into leads. If anything, marketers need to generate trust and credibility even more than sales professionals, because marketing is deeply distrusted by many. If sales media is designed to help focus commitment, then marketing-focused PR must help focus engagement. Earned media that focuses on the wonders that a product or service can bring to someone’s life or business is what we’re looking for. Testimonials, editorials, anything that convinces a reader that they simply must go and learn more is what marketing-focused media needs to do. If you’ve ever encountered what we jokingly call “airline magazine syndrome,” in which an executive reads about the latest, greatest trend in your industry in some magazine on a flight back to the office and comes in demanding that you now have XYZ fancy technology as part of your marketing mix, you know exactly what marketing media is all about.

When you’re working with your in-house team, your PR agency, or just doing it yourself, think about each media opportunity as a chance to focus on driving awareness, engagement or commitment. Rarely does an earned media hit nail all three focus points well, so if you’ve got to make a choice, choose the part of your sales and marketing funnel that needs the most help (audience, leads or sales) and tailor that particular PR opportunity accordingly.

A version of this post originally published 2/11/2013, updated 11/16/18.

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