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The evolution of earned media and the journey ahead

It is no surprise that the events of the last two years have dramatically accelerated changes in the way earned media is created and consumed.

Media owners and publishing houses have reinvented themselves and some in the PR industry are following suit as they seek to drive meaningful change through conversations that matter to consumers.

From broadcast to broadsheet to browser

One of the biggest differences we have seen is the availability and ease at which we can consume our media, and this is especially pertinent to news. Once upon a time, the news was only available at 6pm and 10pm, but like everything else in the world, it has moved towards an always-on, 24-hour, constant stream - a process accelerated by the pandemic that destroyed any last notion of routine viewing times.

But what has spurred this change in the long term? Contrary to popular belief, this is not about generational disparity. 

The change has been driven by the ways all people search, consume, and share media. And with editorial coming in all shapes and sizes, brands and broadcasters will have to adapt their ways of news telling.

Social media rules

Interestingly the formats on which we can consume news have diversified. Social media is at the forefront of this with its instantaneous accessibility, ability to enable us to share thoughts and feelings, and the bitesize nature of it. TikTok, for example, has a simple search feature that provides simplicity and a gateway for people to consume news. Similarly, the growth of consumer/cultural titles like Vice offers shorter forms of content that are easier to digest for those on the move.

The split in formats has led to many publishers employing dedicated teams of editors who create bespoke story packages dependant on the medium. What may be appropriate for TV will not work on TikTok in effectively engaging consumers, for example.

Even within a specific media format, editors will change headlines based on data insights into consumer traffic at certain points of the day. The future of news telling, therefore, must be pragmatic and adaptable to changing technology and evolving consumer habits. The first step when it comes to earned media is to understand the practicalities of it and then how to maximise its consumption.

The fight against misinformation

The term fake news gets thrown about too frequently and is often confused with a greater threat to earned media - misinformation. Fake news is regularly outrageous, unrealistic and arbitrary. Misinformation is much more damaging in comparison, as it is often believable and credits sources that sound well-reasoned - but trust me, they’re not.

Brands have an obligation to help combat this. They come from a position of authority and responsibility in their sector, and must speak up to protect the industry, and consumers.

The importance of consumer voices

As always, earned media is reliant on talking about the conversations that mean the most to consumers. And the best way to find out what those are is to open your ears and listen - physically and digitally.

We are lucky enough to live in such a diverse society, with so many points of view and beliefs. Brands must engage a range of communities and build connections with them. Brands are often guilty of speaking in one voice that doesn’t accurately represent the people they are targeting.

By identifying influential voices in target communities, and then engaging with them, brands can ensure they fully understand the challenges faced, and revaluate the conversations they are having as a result.

Ultimately, although earned media is ever changing, the core principals behind it remain. Brands must assess if what they are saying resonates with audiences. After internal reflection on whether what they are doing truly benefits consumers, they can begin to have honest conversations.

Written by Michael Lamb, creative strategist at PR agency M&C Saatchi Talk

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