earned media vs paid media, PR versus online advertisingBrands may wish to rethink their PR and marketing strategies, given new research that shows earned media drives more brand awareness and many more purchase decisions than advertising.

U.S. consumers say earned media mentions are more likely to convince consumers to purchase products: 30% of consumers say a positive news mention would influence their purchase decisions the most, according to a new survey from BMV, a PR and digital marketing agency. Only 12% say a digital/social ad influences their buying decisions.

Survey results also report that digital news articles (earned media) are slightly more likely (30%) to drive awareness of new products and services than social/digital ads (29%).

Paid vs. Earned Media

The findings are especially noteworthy given the substantial sums spent on advertising and a decline in an emphasis on earned media. Disappearance and downsizing of newsrooms has driven that shift. Almost one in five reporters today live in New York City, Washington, DC, or Los Angeles. PR pros outnumber journalists six to one. Raising brand awareness through PR has become increasingly difficult.

However, earned media may see a rebound as advertising faces significant headwinds, BMV predicts. Gaining attention through paid media becomes more difficult as corporations pile into online advertising. In addition, privacy concerns can hamper online advertising. Three out of four consumers say they are at least sometimes dissuaded from doing business with a company that they believe or know has been collecting data on them for advertising purposes.

Other rent research also shows the value of earned media. Research from the Institute for Public Relations shows that consumers consider earned media more credible than advertising and other media sources. It is cost effective and can often be integrated with other channels. Because consumers check multiple sources before purchasing a product, a multi-pronged strategy that also includes paid and owned media is the most effective approach to product promotion.

More Significant Information

Other noteworthy highlights from the survey:

Responses vary by age. Baby Boomers were most likely to learn about new consumer products from news stories (47%). Younger consumers (Gen Z & millennials) are most likely to learn about new products from social media and digital advertisements.

Customers are more likely to discover B2B products through branded content, such as a company blog, social media, or video, than B2C products online.

Despite the hype about influencer marketing, consumers are more likely to learn about new consumer products from a social media post or friend (18%) than an industry influencer (11%).

Nearly a third of consumers (32%) say they follow and consume branded social media content simply because it’s interesting and engaging. The number is higher among Gen Z & Millennials who increasingly seek their favorite brands for enlightenment and entertainment.

86% of consumers say fake news is a problem online today.

Nearly half of consumers (49%) say fake news is most likely to appear first on and spread from social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Far fewer believe fake news spreads from national news sites (20%), blogs (11%), radio talk shows (9%), regional/local news sites (6%) or podcasts (5%).

More than half (58%) of consumers say they at least sometimes trust what a company or brand says about itself on its owned channels more than what a reporter says about that company in a news article.

Bottom Line: In addition to driving awareness, earned media convinces consumers to complete purchases more effectively than advertising and other channels, new research reveals. High advertising costs, concerns about privacy, and steep competition, may prompt brands to increase budget spends for earned media. However, the decline in news outlets poses a significant challenge for PR pros to obtain worthwhile earned media placements.