Earned media—unpaid, media content produced by someone other than a brand, individual, or organization itself—can be a promotional powerhouse. If you have ever tried a product because of an online review or joined a charity run after seeing it on the news, you have directly experienced the efficacy of earned media.
Not only is earned media free, but it has additional reputational benefits that are sui generis to this type of promotion. For this reason, professional service providers should make it a focal point of their marketing strategy.
The Benefits of Earned Media
Earned media is essentially free publicity and can include everything from media coverage, to word of mouth recommendations, to online user-generated content such as blog or social media posts.
Earned media works through the phenomenon of credentialing—the idea that we ascribe a greater legitimacy to people, things, or ideas when they are verified by others—especially by those we trust. Earned media, by virtue of being a third-party mouthpiece, is perceived as more reliable and more trustworthy than paid advertising. For this reason, research has shown that earned media can outperform traditional advertising in terms of engagement while generating positive perceptions of the brand, individual, or organization in question.
Earned Media in the Professional Services
How do you harness the power of earned media as a professional services provider?
The first step towards making earned media work for you is to become a subject matter expert (SME) in your practice area. You can do this by working with your firm’s business development team to build your authorship portfolio (for example, by publishing insights) and highlight your career milestones. The goal here is to develop depth and expertise that demonstrates your authority on a given topic.
Once the groundwork is laid, you can work with your business development team to formulate an outreach strategy. This may mean putting you forward as a media resource for commentary on legal cases or trends, writing a guest column for an industry-related publication, or appearing on a podcast to talk about your specific area of knowledge. Your business development team can help you identify opportunities that fit with your practice area and overall career development goals.
It is best to keep in mind that earned media relies on stealth promotion. When speaking as a SME, your goal is to appear as a neutral, trusted voice on your topic. Position yourself as a friend who is just trying to help. Focus on what you bring to the table and less on outright promotion. With earned media, the outlet and the audience do the promotion for you.
While earned media has its own risks and challenges, it is an extremely effective marketing tool that can help professional service providers establish themselves as subject matter experts and generate untapped business. By using the power of third-party credentialing to give your message heft and influence, you can reap the benefits of marketing while strengthening your reputation and authority in the field.
 “Subject Matter Expert” is used here as a generally accepted term. It should be noted that, in many jurisdictions, legal professionals are not permitted to call themselves experts.