Earned PR vs Guaranteed PR

  • October 17, 2022
  • Josh Steimle

What’s better, earned PR or guaranteed PR?

Ha, trick question! The fact is, they’re not mutually exclusive. But since there is a bit of misinformation about this topic, let’s explore further.

What is Paid Media?

If it’s an advertisement, it’s paid media. That means the billboard you passed on the highway, the ad you saw in a magazine, the sponsored result you saw in a search engine, and the affiliate link on a blog post are all examples of paid media.

However, there is paid media that doesn’t look exactly like most paid media, like this advertorial content:

Many magazines sell advertorials both online and in print. This type of paid media looks a lot like editorial content, which is why it’s attractive to advertisers in a world where we trust ads less and less.

Another form of paid media is paid contributorships. Forbes is famous for these with their “Forbes Councils” covering topics like business, leadership, and agencies. You pay an annual fee to join a Forbes Council, and you can then post articles to the Forbes website, like this:

Forbes Council pieces are labeled clearly as being written by a “Forbes Council Member,” as “Council Posts,” and they openly state that membership in these councils is “fee-based.” It’s not easy to make it more clear that this is paid media and not earned. However, it does give writers the ability to say, “I write for Forbes,” or “Let me send you an article I wrote for Forbes the other day…” and there’s certainly value in that, but there’s a downside as well.

Unfortunately for Forbes Council members, the articles don’t get promoted on the website the way full editorial articles do. They’re virtually invisible unless you search on Google for the article by title, or if you send the link to the article to someone.

Even worse, once a Forbes Council member, always a Forbes Council member. If you ever, EVER join a Forbes Council, you can NEVER become a full contributor to Forbes. Contributors aren’t full staff writers, they’re experts who, instead of paying to get their articles on Forbes, get paid. Their articles show up alongside those of staff writers. Their articles are considered full editorial content. Their articles don’t show as being paid for, because they aren’t paid for. My advice—never, ever join a Forbes Council. And if you already have? Get as much value as you can out of it, because there’s nothing you can do to get out of it.

Does paid media work? Of course, or nobody would use it. What’s better, paid media or XYZ? It depends. Paid media is better when it’s better, and everything else is better when it’s better. Paid media isn’t inherently better or worse, it’s neutral. It’s a tool, use it appropriately.

What is Owned Media?

A blog post on your website is owned media. If you produce a YouTube video to promote yourself or your company, that’s owned media. Your website, social media channels, and your app are all owned media.

The great thing about owned media, of course, is that you control it. This blog post you’re reading is an example of owned media, and it’s great because it can be optimized for search engines and re-optimized if need be. It can be edited if the information becomes outdated. If composed properly, it can become evergreen content that produces results for years into the future, whereas ads tend to have a short shelf-life.

Does any of that make owned media better or worse than anything else? No, just different. Again, it’s the best thing when it’s the best thing, and when it’s not, it’s not.

What is Earned Media?

You may be thinking, “I already know what earned media is, it’s media you don’t own, and you don’t pay for,” and you would be very close to the truth.

Take a look at this excerpt from a Wall Street Journal article:

You can see that a company named CoreLogic was named three times, in three paragraphs. An executive, Tom Larsen, was named and quoted. The article refers to a report the company issued.

All this is very positive media for CoreLogic. Their inclusion in this article makes them look like reputable experts, the kind of company you would trust if you needed real-estate data.

The big question is—did CoreLogic pay to get into this article?

We don’t know the answer to that question, but here is what we do know:

  1. CoreLogic did not pay WSJ to get into this article. It’s not an advertorial, it’s full editorial content.
  2. CoreLogic did not pay the person who wrote the article to get in it. This is a blatant violation of journalistic ethics and the journalist would be fired and blacklisted if they took any payment or compensation for including CoreLogic in this article. Not saying it doesn’t happen, it does, but it’s relatively rare.

Then how is it even debatable whether or not CoreLogic paid to get in this article? Because we don’t know if CoreLogic was working with a PR firm, or if they got this placement 100% organically.

There are two likely ways CoreLogic got into this article:

  1. CoreLogic hired a PR firm, the PR firm was on top of their game when Hurricane Ian hit Florida, and the PR firm reached out to the right person at WSJ and said, “Hey, I bet you’re writing an article about Hurricane Ian, and my client has a report that has a lot of great data that will help your article.” The person at WSJ responded positively, and the PR firm was able to get WSJ a quote.
  2. CoreLogic produced the report, and the journalist on the story was doing research, stumbled onto it, and said, “Hey, this would be great for my article!” and then they reached out to CoreLogic and got the quote.

If CoreLogic hired a PR firm, then they “paid” to get into the article and the publication. We don’t call this “paid media” because it’s not like the paid media described above. “Paid media” means the things above. “Earned media” means getting into a full editorial article, without paying the publisher or creator of the media. But if you pay a PR firm, the media still needs to be earned, it just changes who earns it. If you don’t have a PR firm, you earn the media yourself. If you hire a PR firm, you pay them to earn it for you.

How PR Can Be Earned and Guaranteed

Many people think that when someone says “guaranteed PR” they’re referring to advertorials or Forbes Council pieces.

Here at Canvas PR, we guarantee PR, but we never put our clients in advertorials or Council pieces. Every piece of media we get for clients is earned media.

How do we do it?

We build and maintain close relationships with journalists and writers, close enough that they trust us when we bring them a story idea—not that we know they’ll place it for us, but we know they’re give us the time of day and take a look. When you develop enough of these relationships at a publication, then PR becomes more predictable, and that allows us to offer a guarantee—either we get the placement within 90 days, or you can get your money back.

In order to offer a guarantee, we can’t take on every client who wants a PR placement. We turn away at least 20% of our potential clients because we don’t believe we can get them the placement they want. But for those we believe are a fit, we’re about 99.99% successful in getting them into their publication of choice.

PR is broken. Most PR clients don’t know what they’re getting, when they’ll get it, or what they’ll pay for it. If you’re stuck in that situation, give us a holler, maybe we can get you unstuck.