Latest industry views and advice

July 19

What role and value does gaining earned media coverage in traditional media outlets have for B2B businesses in a social media world?

As an early adopter of Twitter back in 2008 – and now an earlyish adopter of Threads in 2023 – it pains me to see what has become of organic social media activity that once held such promise: not just for individuals, but for B2B brands and companies wanting to connect more directly with their customer and influence their buying decisions.

At the birth of it all in the late noughties, when advising B2B companies embarking on a social media journey, the potential was seemingly limitless; however, it was never easy for companies to break down the walls between them and the outside world and become…well… more human in their online communications and interactions.

Today, I think the power of social media for B2B businesses lies squarely in platforms such as LinkedIn where both companies and their employees – at least those doing it well – are educating, informing and distinguishing themselves as experts among their peers and potential partners. At its best, it’s a sharing of knowledge, mutual support and encouragement – and the start of useful business conversations. The latest social media trends report from Meltwater/Hubspot reveals that more than 70% of UK companies using social media are using LinkedIn for its high engagement levels.

But what about obtaining earned media coverage in traditional (or mainstream) media? What is fascinating is the way many traditional media outlets – much maligned by those who saw social media as its death knell – have both persisted, reinvented themselves and, crucially, retained a greater level of trust among people.

The value of trust in media sources

The Edelman Trust Barometer 2023 (based on data from 27 countries) puts the level of trust in traditional media at 59%. While that comes in four percentage points lower than search engines, it outstrips owned media at 47% and social media at 41%. Not bad for a medium that some reckoned was ready to be read the last rites.

Clearly, for B2B companies wanting to tell their story, or to be seen as a source of authoritative information and expertise within their industry, achieving earned media carries more weight with the reading, listening and viewing audience. And a proxy benefit of obtaining coverage in trusted media sources is the high performance they achieve in organic online search (the number one trusted media source, according to Edelman). So, “double bubble” if you like.

But desirable as it is, earning media coverage embodies a basic challenge that divides it from other media: you can’t buy it; you can’t Tweet, Insta’ or Thread it and you can’t press “publish” as you can with your corporate blog or website news section.

So, what can businesses do?

The balancing act of achieving earned media for business

Chris Hides of The Academy suggests that a public relations agency capable of achieving media coverage for its clients – a.k.a earned media – is able to reconcile three (often conflicting) agendas of the client, the media and the consumer of that media.

As he puts it: “The client wants to sell something; the media aren’t really interested in selling it and the consumer doesn’t necessarily want to read about it.”

This challenge is very far from new. Lord Northcliffe, 19th century media baron once said: “News is what someone, somewhere wants to suppress – all the rest is advertising.” And this has always been a tough pill to swallow for companies, business leaders and marketers who – naturally – like to see their company and product as the only news worth printing.

The key to this enduring puzzle is to satisfy the competing requirements of the business and the media.

In practice, that means:

  • The PR brief is only the start

A solid PR brief should cover the key components that a public relations campaign will aim to deliver: clear, concrete and realistic objectives, supported by detailed background about the new product, service, business acquisition or change, etc – plus an indication of the concepts, thinking, research and development that’s gone into the change and the competitive landscape it will be part of.

Those are the basics. But, at that point, unless there is additional, credible insight into the market and the customer you still run the risk of focusing solely on your business/product/solution without “painting a picture” of the real-world problems it’s there to solve.

Apart from that being a strategic communications dead end, it’s unlikely to get through the journalistic filter in any media; with journalists highly attuned and generally (even preternaturally) resistant to the overly-commercial “story” pitch.

  • Without the power of perspective and palette of colours, the landscape you’re painting will be one dimensional

With some very rare exceptions (Apple’s Steve Jobs launching the iPhone? ChatGPT threatening to change the world?), most new B2B products or services are likely to be received with a shrug and/or a double dose of scepticism.

As alluded to, the value of the product and the company behind it to the real-world problem or challenge is in how that combined proposition recognises the customer’s world; their pains, frustrations, aspirations and their need to work better, faster, more efficiently, intelligently and, ultimately, be more successful.

If the experts within your business understand the customer’s world intimately and can talk about it in a way that resonates with that customer, then you’re onto something from a public relations and marketing communications point of view. Better still, if you have the data to quantify the critical issues the customer’s facing, your level of authority and credibility takes a big step up. And, again, better yet if you’re pinpointing facts, figures and truths that haven’t been pinpointed either by you or your competitors before.

Not every company has this data to hand – or could analyse it if they did. Luckily, both problems have solutions thanks to the capability of research available today.

The traditional media dividend

Traditional media – even in our age of declining advertising spend and under-pressure newsrooms – remains credible and trustworthy because of its journalistic integrity. The commitment to fact checking and questioning commercial claims is what makes it worth the effort for B2B businesses to engage with and build long-standing, mutually beneficial relationships.

Photo by Ashni on Unsplash


Looking to improve your B2B brand and reputation-building through earned media relations activity? Contact B2B PR agency, Metamorphic PR.

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