Three Ways Associations Can Build a Successful Earned Media Strategy

29 Apr 2021 5:39 AM | Brett Jeffery, CAE (Administrator)

When seeking media coverage for your association, three areas can help you hit a home run. By focusing on smaller markets, creating authentic content, and using social media well, you can maximize the impact of your association’s message.


Association members and leaders face so much information today that the old analogy of drinking from a firehose doesn’t seem adequate. The audience you’re trying to reach right now is trying to fill a glass from several firehoses, all spraying at once from different directions. It’s too much to process, so people look for filters to help them decide what is important—and what can be ignored.


This is where it pays to have a thoughtful, sophisticated earned media strategy. With earned media, you are more likely to get through your audience’s filters. Media coverage gives you third-party credibility from someone who isn’t paid by your organization and who believes enough in your cause, products, or insights to mention, quote, or promote your association’s content.

Make a Big Splash in a Smaller Market

When your association launches an earned media program, you often think about going big: front-page stories in major newspapers, features on the evening news, or your spokesperson doling out wisdom as a talking head on cable networks.


Don’t get distracted by that image, though. There are more than 220 news outlets in Washington, DC, and New York City alone. That doesn’t even count satellite or terrestrial radio or magazines. That’s the media landscape you’ll have to penetrate to score those big hits. It seems daunting—but not as daunting as it must be for your target audience trying to find you in all that noise. How do you cut through it all?


You work hard on your earned media program, so don’t let it become a “one-and-done event.”

Stop trying to do what everyone else is trying to do. Start delivering your earned media where it has a chance to be noticed by the audiences you care most about. State and local outlets are often starved for content and much more likely to have the bandwidth to cover your issue if it has a local angle. By recruiting in-state voices (e.g., spokespeople, op-ed signers, or interviewees), you further illustrate the importance of your issues to the audiences who can sway national elected officials and policymakers.

Create Authentic, Compelling Content

Identify and recruit authentic people to deliver your best messages. Recruit doctors, nurses, teachers, firefighters, small business owners, or other prominent local leaders in the markets you care about to write or appear on broadcast in their authentic voice about the issues that matter to them.
Whether it’s an op-ed, letter to the editor, or an explainer video, create content that is fresh, interesting, and relevant to the outlet you’re pitching. Remember that editors (and publishers) want to put out content that people will click on, read, and share. If your piece is too arcane, too wonky, or too long, it simply won’t get published.

Be Social

You work hard on your earned media program, so don’t let it become a “one-and-done event.” Today's consumers are influenced greatly by family, friends, and what they read and see online. People no longer share the good, the bad, and the ugly of issues just at the water cooler—they share it with everyone they’re connected with online.


According to HubSpot Research, 57 percent of people in the U.S. trust what they hear from friends and family the most when they discover a new product. About one-third of U.S. buyers prefer information they can find from a Google search.


Share the earned media content on as many social media and digital platforms as possible. That includes both your organization’s channels and those of the third-party allies you recruit. Remember, these allies are third-party validators, too. And don’t overlook email.


Sharing content isn’t just about making sure people see your story. It’s about helping those who cover it see its value, too. Editors and publishers want people coming to their site and internet traffic spikes on your stories will show them people are interested and encourage them to cover more of your content.

John Dunagan

John Dunagan is founder and president of Highland Advocacy Group in Washington, DC.

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The Australasian Society of Association Executives (AuSAE)

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