When I started my career in PR more than two decades ago, the media landscape was much different. My Rolodex—remember those?—was filled with two or three food writers working at every newspaper and magazine. Today, the newspaper’s food “page” might be a quarter page or no longer exist at all, while food writers have become “writers.” (According to Muck Rack, the average reporter covers four to five subject areas and files eight or more stories weekly.) Newspapers and magazines have adopted a hybrid print/online model or have shifted entirely online. That list of television producers? It still exists—updated, of course—but today you might be forwarded to a producer in charge of paid integrations.
Shrinking newsrooms, busier reporters, paid integrations and the evolution of the role social media now plays may lead one to think earned media has irrevocably changed and requires an entirely new approach.
I couldn’t disagree more.
Earned media has always been—and continues to be—fueled by foundational truths, admittedly adjusted for today’s environment. To achieve earned media coverage, it’s up to our industry to stay grounded in three core tenets.
Tenet one: tell me a story
“Tell me a story” has been sound advice for garnering earned media since the inception of the PR industry. A compelling pitch, written succinctly, captures attention and lets a reporter’s natural curiosity take over. Executed correctly, “tell me a story” leads to “tell me more.” Some examples of our success:
- Encouraging America to embrace hygge in its time of need (CASTELLO Cheese).
- A problem-solving student and a football chest pass change the game for a tuition giveaway contest (Dr Pepper).
- Tailgating is a party in the parking lot. For the world’s only professional tailgater, it’s a job and a calling. (Chunky soup).
A great media contact gets you an immediate response. “Tell me a story” inspires an article or a segment.
|This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Mar. '23 Food & Beverage PR Magazine
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Tenet two: media influences media
Media has always influenced other media. It’s an ecosystem that feeds off other stories. Years ago, it was an article in a newspaper or magazine—print edition!—that could lead to a television segment or vice versa. Radio was certainly in the mix as well.
It continues today, but the ecosystem now includes social media. Why? That’s where people are accessing news and information. According to a survey from the Pew Research Center, 82 percent of U.S. adults say they often or sometimes get news from a smartphone, tablet or computer. While search, news websites and apps are at least sometimes the entry points for news, half of Americans may get their news directly from social media.
Much like the “old days,” today’s news and information feed off each other. Social platforms are often inspired by or aggregating topics from earned media. And vice versa.
|When four-year-old Xander Tindall asked Little Bites Snacks if they could add an extra muffin in its pack, the brand sent a heartfelt reply and package.|
For instance, in 2021, to announce that the Easter favorite PEEPS Marshmallow Chicks and Bunnies were back on store shelves, Coyne teased the news on the brand’s Instagram account. Inquisitive media quickly reached out to confirm the details. Before the first press release was issued or a pitch had been sent, the media had taken notice and started filing stories. When the customer service team at Coyne client Little Bites Snacks received a letter from a four-year-old looking for a fifth muffin in the four-muffin pack, a heartfelt reply and package from the brand led to a thankful post from the boy’s mom on her Instagram account. A local news reporter picked up the story and then the local story led to another one on “Good Morning America.”
Top consumer outlets are often pulling stories from social platforms. For instance, Food Network.com and “Good Morning America” source trending recipes from TikTok and Instagram as part of their reporting.
To meet today’s news and information environment, we recommend that earned media efforts not overlook the power and influence of social media and influencer engagement. Neglecting to do so would be like creating an “olden days” earned media strategy that focused solely on broadcast media while overlooking the influence and opportunity of newspapers and magazines.
To be fair, the percentage of a client’s focus on earned media can and does shift based on the target audience, among other factors.
Our client base includes a range: from brands built and maintained on earned, to those that have shifted almost exclusively to digital and social media to those that fall somewhere in between.
Tenet three: make it easy to say ‘yes’
There’s a reason reporters still often say in meet-the-media sessions: “If you want to know what I cover, watch my program/read my column.” Let’s just admit it: not all PR professionals are doing it.
You can make it easy for reporters to say “yes” by understanding what they like to report on and explaining why what you’re pitching is relevant to their audience (the latter is sometimes overlooked; do so at your peril).
You can also make it easy for them to say “yes” by providing all the assets to make their lives easier: Can they speak to someone from the brand (don’t offer if you can’t deliver)? Can they speak to a consumer or other stakeholder that fills out the story? Are there visuals to accompany the story (not just for broadcast; online media is increasingly utilizing video to accompany stories)? Are there data points, research or anecdotes that help bring the story to life?
The world continues to evolve, and the media and PR industry is no different. But as the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Stacy Bataille is Senior Vice President at Coyne PR.