Almost every marketer today is eager to use "earned media" to build their brands online. Earned media, loosely defined as the sharing of branded content via social connections, seems like a free gift to marketers; you simply create some great content and watch it spread like wildfire.
But the reality is a bit more complicated. Creating compelling content – videos, games, contests, promotions, articles etc. – is just the first step. You then have to use paid media – online, PR, events and other media buys - to encourage the spread of your content. So earned media is not really "free" after all, and it takes a lot of expertise in media planning, buying, and measurement to get it right.
Agencies are understandably getting lots of calls from clients asking to "get on this earned media thing." Now, agencies don't just have to do what they've always done – create ads and buy media – they must also attract, motivate, and engage specific audiences with a brand's content. Agencies have to "earn" media for their clients in addition to buying it. But who is responsible for managing earned media at an agency? Certainly, activating sharing of content is a far different role that just buying media – because it involves identifying, understanding, and measuring social audiences and their sharing patterns.
The rise of the Earned Media Director
Enter a whole new job title and, since since this is the agency business, a new acronym! The fact that agencies are hiring Earned Media Directors, or EMDs, heralds the beginning of a much more sophisticated, structured approach to deploying earned media campaigns for brands, and marks the first step in a real revolution happening within media and creative agencies.
EMDs help brands strategically plan earned media campaigns; ensure broad reach of content through paid media buys, PR, and free social distribution strategies; and measure the impact of earned media on bottom-line sales and brand reach. An EMD's job is to guide the creation and execution of earned media campaigns – and then provide clear metrics showing the impact these earned media campaigns have on brand reach, sales, and marketing ROI.
EMDs have distinct roles at creative and media agencies, though both are tasked with uncovering all earned media channels to ensure campaigns achieve the greatest impact. At media agencies, EMDs help clients better understand which social platforms will produce the most sharing for which campaigns, and how to strategically use paid media to increase the reach of earned media campaigns. At creative agencies, EMDs help direct the full creative process from concept to execution, ensuring that campaigns incorporate the right social triggers and content to generate maximum earned media.
Many agencies are still approaching earned media as an "add on" to traditional programs, asking media planners to tack viral programs onto their jobs. However, many forward-thinking agencies are hiring EMDs. These trend-setting agencies – both creative and media – are creating entirely new, socially-focused advertising practices.
Who are they?
They're people like Evolution Bureau's earned media director Craig Batzofin, the creative force behind social campaigns for clients like Wrigley, Zynga, and Facebook. Batzofin describes his job in this way: "it's about strategically planning and executing integrated brand content programs that seamlessly tie together shareable content, PR, and paid media to get our content seen and socialized."
Or people like Chris Yeo, who is earned media director at Saatchi & Saatchi and leads efforts to amplify content reach for one of Saatchi's largest clients, Toyota. He claims that earned media is about much more than generating tweets and Likes; it's about generating engagement that has a measurable impact on both online and offline sales. "As the participation economy is ramping up, we're focusing our efforts on figuring out which media tactics will have the highest capacity to drive off and online conversation for our clients," he says.
The EMDs of the future
Earned media breaks down the former "hostile disconnect" between creative and media – and the EMD sits at the intersection of these two worlds. When agencies hire EMDs, earned media becomes more strategically woven into the fabric of brand strategy.
When it comes to earned media results – whether it's likes, shares, or another type of engagement – brands have subscribed to the "bigger is better" mentality. While reach will always be paramount for brands, the quality of earned media engagement will also become critical. You may have 50,000 Facebook fans, but if they don't share and influence others, what are they worth? EMDs will be important facilitators in helping brands move from a blanket goal of generating as much as earned media as possible, to one focused on generating high-quality, impactful earned media.
With dedicated leadership at the helm of earned media, the spread of content will become as important to brands as paid ads. Agencies will be tasked not just with creating entertaining and engaging videos, games, contests, and other content – but with finding ways to increase the viral reach of this content among influential audiences. A crack EMD understands what motivates people to share, and develops content that inspires them to do more of it.