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Want Earned Media? Learn to Earn It First

Devise a strategy to leverage your contacts and spread the word about your station

There is a rule for brainstorming sessions that emphatically states no idea is a bad idea. The genius who coined this concept deserves a cream pie … in the face!


The most consistently horrible proposition that raises my blood pressure is this Wile E. Coyote genius comment, “Let’s create a viral video!”

That “idea” typically kills other creative thinking, so moving forward, I’m making it clear to any group that will have me as a member that this idea is banned from all brainstorming.

While that rare person who can intentionally create instantly viral videos may exist, I’ve yet to meet this super-human. Viral videos are mainly happy accidents: Something was caught spontaneously and is so authentic that it resonates emotionally.

So what’s a station that wants to generate consistent water-cooler conversation to do? Devise an earned-media strategy!


For those unfamiliar with the term, “earned media” is publicity gained either by successfully having stories placed on media outlets (digital and traditional) or by convincing consumers to share items via social media, texting and email. “Earned media” is part of the triangle whose other two thirds are “paid media” and “owned media.”

How does one obtain earned media? By far the most effective way is to actually hire a public relations firm or individual who specializes in this field. I know the go-to response to this suggestion is “we don’t have the budget for that!” If your marketing budget is truly zero, I get it, and I do have a few thoughts for you coming up. However, if you have some marketing dollars, maybe it’s time to consider how effectively that money is being invested.

Oftentimes radio stations will buy small TV schedules with few gross ratings points or tons of banner ad impressions with low click-through rates or social media posts with little-to-no reach. If that’s the case, take the time to price out a local public relations or communications firm who specializes in earned media in your city. You may get more bang for your buck by re-allocating funds.

It is certainly possible to generate earned media without a budget. The keys to success are developing relationships, utilizing those relationships at the appropriate time and persistence.

Not everyone is great at developing business friendships. It takes a willingness to meet new people and to get them to understand that you can provide value to them personally. For example, there are people in charge of content at your local newspapers (print/digital) and television news programs who are constantly looking for human interest stories. Such stories occur naturally on morning radio shows, but rarely do the right assignment editors hear about these stories consistently.

Many cities now also have local social media influencers who specialize in certain topics, such as entertainment or sports. The next time you’ve got an appropriate celebrity coming into the studio, invite a local social influencer to join you — the influence should take pictures, video, sound, whatever he or she wants to share with their audience.

You probably already work with nonprofits to help them with fundraising or generating attendance to their events. Are you asking these groups to share stories of your work together with their membership? There could be tens of thousands of people reading their monthly newsletters or viewing their website, but if you don’t ask to be included, you may be left out. One idea is to get a friendly nonprofit to interview one of your personalities on a specific topic that’s relevant to the organization’s readership.

Do you have a sister radio station that could be airing stories about you? For example, if there’s a news station in your cluster, do they ever share about some good deed one of your personalities did in the community?

Do you ever ask your on-air audience to retweet, share images or forward specific videos? If five people share with five people who share with five people, the numbers can build rapidly.

Do not underestimate the power of persistence when trying to generate earned media. While you don’t want to wear out your welcome with media contacts or social influencers, you must be in touch regularly. When you really work the phones, email and meet in person, you will finally understand the original meaning of those two words: earned media — because you will have truly earned it!