Earned Media vs. Native Advertising: Smart Publishers Find a Path for Advertiser Content
An insidious term has started to be widely used these past couple of years. As publishers, we must stamp out the term "earned media" before it becomes chiseled in stone -- if we're not already too late -- because it devalues what we do. If you have seen it as a line item in marketing plans while advertisers explained they couldn't spend on your publication, you've been burned by earned.
Earned media? Earned how?
The definition of earned media is free coverage marketers get from you. In some ways this is nothing new. PR firms have always tried to get free press from us. That was their job; no harm, no foul. Publishers have had a symbiotic relationship with PR firms forever. PR used to see itself in the same media ecosystem as advertising and the best of them became good resources for editors.
Some content marketing firms and software sellers are now working against you. I've seen them trumpet any free press B2B publishers give them, showing what a great job the marketing company did as proof clients need not bother with advertising expenditures. They charge marketers to get this exposure, so there is nothing free about it. It is just that publishers are not the ones getting paid.
The lie behind the claim is that all media is created equal. That a tweet or a Facebook mention reaches as important an audience as a write-up in your magazine, online, or on paper. Digital analytics boasting big numbers can dupe one into believing this. The truth is, like me you are hopefully too busy to read your Twitter feed all day and don't see 98% of those tweets. It is well known much sharing is done without the tweeter reading the original content just to keep their numbers up.
Of course social media is critical as part of all marketing. But compared to a trusted publication with a targeted, earned audience, it is quite random.
The Flip-Side of Native Advertising
Maybe we brought this on ourselves. Publishers and commentators, in this magazine and elsewhere, have been beating their chests over the ethicality of native advertising. Publishers who sell advertisers the right to run sponsored (and labeled) copy have been called some ugly things. I've heard stories of editors fighting ad sales departments over this.
If marketers cannot get their message to your audience in any form but advertising, then other channels take on more importance in getting that message out. By not allowing native advertising we may be nurturing a business where other companies, so-called content marketers, sell it for us. To me, it is nuts not to take the money ourselves and leave it for a content marketing industry that tells marketers your publications are nothing special. (Of course you must prominently tag it; that's a given.)
Sadly funny, even those who don't offer native ads are happy to give content marketing away free. There is no serious trade publisher I know which does not routinely run vendor-originated content and/or blogs. My last magazine was about RFID technology. We would invite top experts in the field to write for us. I had no problem having their company name, even a link, under their byline. It's a given none of us would run a piece which says 'buy me, buy me.' The fact this was written by individuals at companies which have promotional motivations made it no less valuable. They did, indeed, earn any promotional value they received.
I have a confession: I sometimes found myself concerned about the balance of great vendor copy from advertisers vs. non-advertisers. Here is the crazy part: At times I ran non-advertiser copy before that of advertisers, concerned it might look suspicious otherwise. Truth is, I'd probably do that again as dumb as it sounds. It is this kind of convoluted thinking many editors wary of native advertising engage in.
Smart B2B media companies sell marketing services to advertisers, including writing articles on their behalf. That is one way marketers can truly earn media in important channels like the audiences we build and nurture.
Andy Kowl is a journalist and entrepreneurial publisher with more than 30 years developing, marketing and growing publishing companies. He is senior vice president of publishing strategy for ePublishing Inc., the leading enterprise publishing system (EPS) provider which manages content, audience data, workflow, newsletters and e-commerce for hundreds B2B online publications. He helps publishers increase reader engagement and response by integrating behavioral data with contextual content, and shows them direct ways to monetize the results. Andy writes the B2B Beat blog for Publishing Executive magazine. His background in B2B includes publishing, editing and/or owning magazines and information products covering specialty retail, horse breeding, real estate, credit unions, Wall Street compliance and wireless technology.