What It Is & How to Leverage It to Boost Your Brand


Free shipping. Free parking. Free lunch. Who doesn’t like free? Unfortunately, most things in life aren’t, and even those that claim to be almost always have strings attached like hidden fees, a minimum purchase, or a long, sweaty walk to your destination. Heck, even “Buy One/Get One Free” isn’t exactly “free.”

However, if you have a business, when it comes to your brand’s media strategy, there actually is something that doesn’t have to cost a penny yet can help you earn more dollars in the long run.

It’s called earned media, or what some might call “free publicity.” It’s a powerful tool that brands have in their toolbox, though many businesses either ignore or don’t know how to leverage it. It wasn’t that long ago that a whopping 90% of U.S. respondents to a national survey stated that they didn’t even know what earned media was.

In marketing and communications, media refers to the different types of messaging channels a brand uses to reach customers. There have traditionally been three types of media: owned media, paid media, and earned media. To understand what earned media is, it helps to know more about all the types of media.


The Three Main Types of Media

Owned media is any content delivery channel you and your brand own and control, including your website, blog, emails, and social media accounts. While it may involve some expense such as domain purchase and does require some time and resources to produce, it is considered to be mostly organic, or “unpaid.” The opposite of owned media is paid media which involves purchasing placement for your messaging. This includes broadcast commercials, direct mail, and digital ads.

With the rise of social media, a new form of media, “shared media,” has been added to conversation. Basically a combination of owned and earned media, shared media is considered content that is shared across third-party platforms or shared between multiple owners, including when people like, comment on, or share posts. While considered its own category by some — and part of the PESO marketing model emphasizing using a combination of paid, earned, shared, and owned media — shared media will be considered a part of earned media for the purposes of this blog.

In a 2020 survey conducted among senior level communications and marketing professionals in the U.S., it was found that in-house comms specialists divided their media budgets fairly evenly between earned, owned, and paid media. Conversely, agency communications professionals earmarked 56% of their media budgets for earned media.

Though it intertwines with and is often a result of owned or paid media, earned media is unpaid publicly generated exposure. It’s not you talking about your brand, or even paying someone to do it for you; it’s getting others to talk about your brand, ideally in a positive light.


Examples of Earned Media

Customer testimonials

Product reviews

Unsponsored influencer mentions

Social media engagement (shares, reposts, comments, likes)

Media coverage (TV, newspapers, magazines, blogs)

Word-of-mouth recommendations

Backlinks from other sites to your site


Earned media offers a number of valuable benefits that other media either can’t or doesn’t do as effectively. This is why brands that ignore this media type in their strategies are missing out on big opportunities for growth.


4 Main Advantages of Earned Media


  1. It’s More Authentic

Because it’s unpaid for and not controlled by your brand, earned media is more credible and trusted by the public as genuine. Whether being spread by the media or customers, this “word of mouth” is often the difference maker when people are choosing one brand over another. This can also be a problem if someone’s spreading an inaccurate or negative message.

  1. It Reaches a Wider Audience

You may not have all day every day to get your messaging out there across every channel, but earned media mentions can spread positive vibes about your brand to more people and in outlets you may not normally consider, like trade publications or news editorials.

  1. It Creates Long-Term SEO Benefits 

The larger your footprint, especially across the digital landscape, the more search engines will begin favoring your digital channels and ranking their URLs higher in searches which is incredibly important for increasing key metrics like website traffic and conversions. It will take time but it will be worth it to increase your earned media mentions.

  1. It’s FREE!  

It bears repeating, earned media is free publicity. No ad dollars and no resources towards website design and upkeep are necessary. Now, that does not mean that you don’t have to take some time creating a strategy and finding ways to generate that earned media.While earned media is free, it sometimes takes a little nudging to get it. And the better your brand is at this, the better you’ll be at realizing the benefits mentioned above.

It’s been said that all publicity is good publicity. But anyone in charge of their business’s PR or marketing knows that this is a misnomer, especially in today’s cancel culture. Some publicity is definitely bad publicity, and can ruin your brand. However, generating no publicity at all is also bad publicity. You may not be able to control earned media, but you can shape the narrative and earn positive mentions.


How Can Your Brand Start Leveraging Earned Media?


  1. Provide Quality Content

Whether it’s owned or paid media, the more valuable the content you produce, the greater the chance it will be organically shared or linked to in some fashion, which is the essence of earned media. From website blogs to social media, give the audience, especially your target audience, what they want — insightful, relevant, life-improving information and entertainment. When it comes to sharing, social media is an unmatched platform, so to avoid or neglect it is to miss out on a huge opportunity.

  1. Connect With Valuable Sources

Keeping your industry and target audience in mind, it’s important to seek out and find a number of publications and outlets that are interested in news and insight from your brand. Much of earned media is about building relationships with journalists and publications willing and eager to share your content and/or speak highly of your company. One way to do this is to take advantage of free online services like Haro (Help a Reporter Out) or Qwoted to connect with numerous relevant sources and build a professional network.

  1. Optimize the Customer Experience

Testimonials and reviews are a powerful part of earned media. People often turn to online reviews on Yelp, Google, and other platforms when considering their options. Unfortunately, people are more eager to leave reviews when they’re unsatisfied or angry with an experience than when they’ve had a good one. Though some people are impossible to please, most people appreciate and are willing to spread the word about good customer experiences, which is why it’s important to optimize your customers’ experience across your channels, from your website checkout to your in-store customer service. This also includes engaging positively with customers on social media and responding promptly to problems and feedback.


With years of experience building meaningful relationships with all types of media outlets, M:7 Agency can help you develop and employ an earned media strategy, from pitching to publications to creating content for owned and paid media channels that helps generate earned media.

For more information about how earned media works and how you can take advantage of it, start a conversation with M:7 today!