Benjamin Franklin once said, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” And over two hundred years later, Taylor Swift added, “Ooh, you and me, we got big reputations.”
Both of these quotes are relevant to those of us in professional services. The reputations that we develop and manage are vital to the success of our businesses and fragile.
At Hinge, we do a lot of thinking about reputations — specifically how they apply to professional services branding and marketing. In fact, we define “brand” as the product of your visibility and your reputation. But how do you assess the reputation of your firm.
Earned media can provide some answers: What are others saying about your firm? Which of your firm’s achievements, stories, or areas of expertise is the marketplace sharing with others? If you listen to the way others talk about you and respond to your content you can begin to understand how others perceive you brand.
Definition of Earned Media
Earned Media is a term to describe any kind of unsolicited content written about your firm by an outside resource which wasn’t directly paid for or created by a member of your staff. It could be a news article that quotes one of your leaders or describes something you’ve done or it can be something as simple as a mention on social media.
Some examples of earned media include the following:
- News story or blog post
- Link or reference to your content
- Citation in academic journal
- Social media mention
Benefits and Concerns of Earned Media
The number one benefit of earned media is that it can simultaneously build the credibility of your firm and expose you to new audiences. It can provide reporters, bloggers, and industry experts with the information they need to expose you to their readers. And if their stories highlight the achievements and expertise of your business, so much the better.
Earned media can be beneficial because it shares noteworthy information about your firm with readers who may not otherwise know about your business. This expanded reach increases awareness of your brand and what makes your firm different.
Best of all, your team didn’t need to spend time developing the content. Unlike other marketing techniques, such as guest blogging, there’s no legwork with earned media. The work is done for you. Someone else is taking on the task of writing, publishing, and promoting a story about the work you’ve already done.
However, not all earned media is positive. Investigations, negative reviews, complaints on social media, and negative news stories are earned media too.
Examples of Negative Earned Media
You’ve probably heard, “There’s no such thing as negative publicity.” This may be true in Hollywood, but it’s not the case in professional services where firms who live or die by their reputation. A damaging news story or series of scathing reviews could have catastrophic consequences.
Negative earned media can arise under a variety of different circumstances. For instance, the misconduct of a firm leader can quickly turn into a PR crisis that calls into question the credibility of a firm. In 2018, Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, the world’s largest advertising and PR firm, resigned amid allegations of personal misconduct. Investigations were launched, articles were written, and ultimately the stock value sharply fell.
Negative earned media can affect recruiting, as well. I’d like to offer a personal example negative earned media that had a direct influence on me as a job candidate.
Before I worked for Hinge, I applied for multiple jobs in the Washington D.C. Metro Area. One opportunity was with a national association. Like any good job candidate, I took to the internet to research the association.
I soon found a YouTube video titled “Do Not Support The [_____] Association”. The video was produced by someone connected to the particular health condition this association served, and – with over 10,000 subscribers – she was clearly a person of influence in this space. In fact, this video criticising the association had vastly more YouTube views than any of the videos the association had produced themselves. Yikes!
During my interview with their Executive Director, I asked about it. They were aware of the video, but they had chosen to ignore it. To a job candidate like me, this lack of PR savvy was a big red flag, and I lost interest in the job.
Nobody wishes for PR crises and negative earned media. But they can happen to anyone, even the good guys. So it pays to be prepared. Have a contingency plan ready to go: Identify a public relations firm and a lawyer whom you can call to help manage the crisis. Keep a list of industry influencers and clients that admire your firm, in case you need a balancing viewpoint.
Most importantly, set your firm up for success and build a public reputation that is overwhelmingly positive. Here are three strategies to realize this success.
3 Strategies for Earned Media Success
Publish original research
Through our research on high-growth professional services firms, we made an important discovery — firms that did systematic business research on their target client group grew faster and were more profitable. This research could include any of the following:
- Brand research
- Market research
- Persona research
- Client satisfaction research
Research equips your firm with relevant data that can drive informed decision making. But there is an alternative benefit to research too! The research your firm conducts can create excellent content for your audience.
As you build out your content marketing strategy, you should be considering how original research can enrich your content. Data-driven insights are often some of the most shareable kinds of content. News publications and bloggers are always on the lookout for new data that shares something meaningful about the world. Therefore, conducting original research is a great strategy for gaining more positive earned media.
Engage more on social media
Nothing has revolutionized the world of marketing quite like social media — but for many professional services firms it remains an enigma. You’ve created your corporate account, filled out your profile, and started posting content. But now what?
One thing many of us fail to understand about social media is that you need to be the initiator of the action if you want the attention to come back your way. The idea that you could create your social media profiles and suddenly start attracting loads of earned media and leads sounds euphoric… but unfortunately it’s a pipedream. Social media is a grind that requires concentrated attention from you and your team.
Your social media accounts — especially on LinkedIn and Twitter — are important in professional services marketing. However, they will yield very little earned media if you are not proactively networking, commenting, liking, sharing, and engaging with others. In a different article, I mention that there are two evergreen rules for social media:
- Be human
- Be helpful
Both of these evergreen rules carry the notion of engaging with others in meaningful ways. Because at the end of the day, the point of social media is to be social with others who you’’ve met or want to meet. You need to target and engage with this audience. Do it more than you think you should. And watch the social mentions, shares, and retweets of your firm’s content increase.
Speak and network at targeted conferences
Finally, a large amount of positive earned media can be generated from networking and speaking at targeted conferences where your clients, referral sources and peers attend.
There is a reason why nearly all of these B2B industry conferences provide attendees with a hashtag for their event. They want to generate earned media! The social mentions under their hashtag will allow the conference organizers, along with many savvy attendees, to network with and target those who engage with the hashtag on social media.
Being a speaker at one of these conferences is an especially potent way to spark earned media. During your presentation, you want to make sure you introduce yourself and to invite attendees to connect with you on LinkedIn and follow you on Twitter. Through your presentation, they are about to be exposed to your expertise. Perhaps they’ll quote something interesting you say in your presentation. Or maybe they’ll share a photo. Regardless… don’t let them leave the room without following you on social media.
Not speaking? Not a problem. If your firm invests in sending you to a conference there is ample opportunity to generate earned media for yourself and your firm. Use the event as a catalyst to connect with new people, build new relationships, and bring the conversation online. Use the conference hashtag and follow people of interest. Engage with them. Hopefully they’ll follow you back.
Business cards are great but often get piled up in a junk drawer. Use the time you spend at conferences networking and speaking wisely. Connect with folks on social media, leave a good impression, engage with them online, and watch them become your fans and new referral sources.
We’ve only touched on three strategies for success when it comes to earned media. But there are countless ways to accomplish this goal. Your firm can publish articles and whitepapers. Or you could apply for and win industry awards. Perhaps you launch or unveil a groundbreaking new project that garners news coverage. Or maybe you could produce a viral video. Earned media is hard to control but there are strategies for success.
Setting your firm apart by publishing original research can give your audience meaningful insights they want to share and enrich your content marketing strategy. More concentrated time engaging with others on social media will naturally allow for you to build relationships and more interested readers of your brand and expertise. And finally, speaking at conferences where your potential clients are attending will boost the visibility of your expertise and possibly generate significant earned media.