The Power of Public Relations: How does earned media really work?

At 8-years-old my son experienced his first press event to celebrate the more than 8,000 COVID-19 vaccinations the CATE mobile unit disseminated across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Public Relations. By definition, this term and the entire industry can be many different things. Often it’s lumped into the large category of communications and outreach, spilling into buckets that also include marketing and paid advertising. Now with social media and other digital content strategies being thrown into the mix, the lines of where Public Relations begins and ends are more blurred than ever before.

I’ve written about this topic before, attempting to clear the name of PR from a variety of angles. But I have yet to really quantify what PR is and does as directly as I will for you in this post. Over the last several weeks, I’ve seen the power of PR shine through in some pretty impressive ways. There are few things that make me happier than when a lean investment yields 10x…even 100x in return. And that’s exactly what I saw took place during two key initiatives where PR was the “fuel in the rocketship” so to speak.

Most importantly, these aren’t special scenarios or clients with big budgets. In fact, each spent just 1% of what they received back in earned media coverage, and we pulled off these events with only a few weeks of planning! Simply put, Public Relations is fast, furious, and powerful when it’s harnessed and presented correctly. Here are two examples that demonstrate PR at its finest.

Animatronic Dinosaurs – The Jurassic Encounter

Goal – The Jurassic Encounter (aka Drive Thru Dinos) had one event under its belt (hosted in Northern Virginia) before heading to the Greater Harrisburg, Pennsylvania market. The event organizers reached out to Bennis Public Relations based on a referral from the Farm Show Complex just a few weeks prior to their grand opening weekend. It was a crazy assignment – dominate a new market with minimal lead time and a modest budget that needed to encompass all paid advertising, marketing, and PR. For a variety of reasons, I saw the opportunity for a winning outcome for this client, particularly through the use of creative, grassroots PR tactics.

Method – Paid advertising was a big portion of the overall budget, as it should be. We carefully targeted the best placements inclusive of billboards, print, radio, television, digital, and social media ads. But this alone was not going to deliver the overwhelming success we’ve become known for – especially when called in for a “special ops” mission like this situation. I knew PR was going to be what packed the punch we needed to build trust and credibility with the client that would have them consider Bennis Public Relations for future collaboration. Paid advertisements were up and running full throttle, which is great because you get what you pay for – but I also wanted to deliver a huge return of earned media (public relations) that would compliment and amplify the paid media (advertising). Through press releases, personalized media pitches, coordinating on-site interviews, and calling upon connections, an investment of just $3,500 in Public Relations yielded over $216,000 in earned media value!*

Outcome – More than the staggering value of earned media alone ($216,572 to be exact) The Jurassic Encounter event received 32 unique news stories from both local and regional print, digital, and television outlets that reached a total news audience of 3,755,431 people! Again, I emphasize that the total investment in the Public Relations services that earned these results was just $3,500. That is 1/3 of what was spent on social media advertising and less than 1/10 of what was spend on paid media! Plus, it’s impossible to fully quantify the brand value that was established through earned media coverage that has been proven to be perceived as more trustworthy and of greater value to readers than paid advertisements. It’s an understatement to say the client was blown away by these results. From this single event, they went from seeing PR as a nice-to-have or an afterthought in the budget, to elevating it to a prime focus for future events.

COVID-19 Vaccinations in Underserved Communities – The CATE Mobile Unit

Goal – The CATE (Community-Accessible Testing & Education) COVID-19 mobile initiative hosted more than 230 events across the Commonwealth in just 12 months, focusing on reaching underserved, minority communities by providing essential COVID-19 resources including vaccines, tests, PPE, and bilingual literature on COVID-19 vaccine education. To celebrate the massive accomplishment of providing 8,300 COVID-19 vaccinations, 5,200 COVID-19 tests, and reaching more than 20,000 people across the commonwealth, a press event was the best way to attract substantial earned media coverage from a statewide market.

Method – The success of this event was based solely on a solid Public Relations strategy. I first created and disseminated a media advisory in advance of the event to invite all pockets of Pennsylvania’s media markets to cover the press event live. A press release was also crafted and sent out to the same media list the day of the event for outlets who could not attend in person but wished to cover the event. Several outlets reached out in advance of the event to do preview stories by way of Zoom interviews and live footage captured before the event even took place. The event itself took place at an easily accessible location, during a convenient time for the media, and was attended by prominent community leaders who played a role in the initiative and who gave remarks at the event. Combined, this created an attractive opportunity for the media to cover. That’s key!

Outcome – The day of the event, attendance was light and media outlets don’t often RSVP to let you know they will attend. They can also be pulled into another story at any time, especially if breaking news takes place. Slowly, but surely the outlets arrived with cameras and reporters and the event went off without a hitch. There was even cake and balloons to celebrate this 1-year milestone! But the real “icing” was the earned media value of $114,400 and the total new audience of 1,641,843 people reached! Additionally, 12 news stories resulted from this single event which consisted of about 20 minutes of speaking and no more than an hour altogether. That is quite the return on the investment of time and resources that totaled less than $1,500! Again – we paid $0 to the media for this coverage! 

Sure, these are strong examples of PR at its finest, but there are so many other examples I can share of even just one or two new stories that have earned an impressive media value for a client. Earned media is valued based on the estimated audience size and the cost of placing a paid advertisement with that same outlet – receiving the equivalent amount of space or air time. The beauty of earning the media rather than paying for it is obvious – it shouldn’t cost anything more than the time it took to secure the news coverage. This is true Public Relations and only the tip of the iceberg for what you can accomplish when you have a comprehensive and consistent PR strategy for your business that is earning you media value month after month.

Does Public Relations still feel ambiguous to you? Are you left with questions you need to be answered? I’ll respond to every comment. Leave your thoughts below!

*Estimated earned media value and news audience is compiled based upon real-time data and analysis of the reach and value of new sources provided by Critical Mention, a trusted news monitoring platform.