Earned Media Value: It’s Not The Right Metric for Measurement

Key Takeaways 📈 🔥

  • Rethink Earned Media Value. Earned Media Value (EMV) is not the right metric to quantify the impact of PR programs. It’s flawed and doesn’t accurately represent the value of earned media.
  • Understanding Earned Media Measurement. Earned media measurement quantifies a brand’s media coverage impact. It goes beyond mere impression counts, focusing on the business value generated from media placements. Proper measurement can lead to increased brand awareness, improved customer sentiment, and a fortified brand reputation.
  • Alternative Metrics are Available. There are various ways to measure earned media, such as Share of Voice (SOV), Sentiment Analysis, Engagement Metrics, Critical Message Penetration, Influencer Impact, Referral Traffic, and PR Attribution. These metrics provide a more comprehensive understanding of a campaign’s effectiveness.
  • Credibility of Earned Media. Earned media holds a unique advantage in its credibility. When individuals share their opinions about a brand, their views are perceived as more genuine and trustworthy than paid advertisements. This credibility can significantly influence stakeholders and potential customers.
  • Flaws in Earned Media Value. EMV has several inherent problems. It focuses on outputs rather than outcomes, treats all media coverage as equal, and is highly subjective in its calculations. These flaws make it an unreliable metric for measuring PR campaign impact.
  • The Real Value of Earned vs. Paid Media. While earned media offers credibility, cost-effectiveness, and organic reach, paid media provides control, immediate results, and scalability. A balanced marketing strategy should incorporate both to harness their unique benefits.

If you are using earned media value to show the impact of your PR program, please stop. There are other options.

Why this matters:

It’s not the right metric to quantify earned media measurement. It’s wrong. It’s flawed. There are other ways to measure the value of earned media.

I’ve never worked in earned media, but let me clarify. I am not an earned media strategist. I don’t know the media. I don’t know any journalists. I have never written a press release. I have never read a press release. But I’ve been building earned media measurement models for years.

I started my career as a direct marketer and have used data for the last 20+ years for various use cases. Today, I’ve applied these same principles to what I do with all kinds of analytics projects. As a result, I have a pretty good understanding of how to measure earned media.

But this post isn’t about me. It’s about measuring earned media value and why it’s not a smart thing to do. So before discussing measuring earned media incorrectly, let’s quickly define it.

What is Earned Media Measurement? 

Earned media measurement evaluates and quantifies the impact of a brand’s media coverage. Instead of counting impressions or tracking hits, PR pros must adopt more comprehensive methods to demonstrate the business value generated from earned media placements. 

Showing the business value of earned media is crucial for PR professionals. Their efforts can translate into increased brand awareness, improved customer sentiment, and a stronger brand reputation. In addition, measuring earned media allows PR pros to identify trends, understand their audience’s perceptions, and create targeted strategies that address the evolving public opinion landscape.

The importance of earned media measurement cannot be overstated, particularly when considering its critical role in tracking a brand’s reputation. Companies that can effectively measure the impact of their earned media efforts are better positioned to safeguard and manage brand health.

Alternative Earned Media Metrics

There are several ways to measure earned media. The critical thing to remember is to use these earned media metrics to create a measurement framework:

  • Share of Voice (SOV): This metric compares a brand’s earned media coverage with its competitors. By calculating the percentage of total conversations, mentions, or content featuring the brand, companies can determine their prominence within their industry.
  • Sentiment Analysis: Evaluating the tone and sentiment of earned media coverage helps brands understand public opinion and how the public perceives their messaging.
  • Engagement Metrics: Analyzing engagement levels, such as likes, comments, shares, and clicks, can provide valuable insights into the effectiveness of earned media. Higher engagement indicates that the content resonates with media readership.
  • Critical Message Penetration: This method involves assessing the extent to which a brand’s key messages appear in an earned media placement.
  • Influencer Impact: Identifying the impact of influencers who mention or promote a brand can help companies understand the effectiveness of their earned media campaigns. By analyzing influencer-generated content’s reach, engagement, and sentiment, brands can assess the value these influencers bring to their campaigns.
  • Referral Traffic: Tracking the number of visitors arriving at a brand’s website through earned media coverage offers insights into the effectiveness of the content in driving traffic. This metric can also provide information on the sources and channels generating the most significant impact.
  • PR Attribution: PR attribution attributes specific actions or outcomes, such as leads, conversions, or sales, to earned media efforts. By tracking the customer journey and identifying touchpoints where earned media played a role, companies can determine the direct impact of their PR campaigns and show earned media ROI.

Incorporating these earned media metrics enables companies to gain a deeper understanding of the effectiveness of their campaigns. 

The Importance of Earned Media Measurement

Mastering earned media measurement is critical for PR pros. It provides valuable insights into the effectiveness of PR campaigns and their impact on brand reputation. Companies can demonstrate the business value of their earned media efforts by going beyond simple impression counts and focusing on more in-depth methods like PR attribution and sales tracking. This understanding allows them to create targeted earned media programs that drive growth and reinforce their brand’s positive image.

One of the critical benefits of earned media is its credibility. When people share their thoughts and opinions about a brand or product, their views are seen as more authentic and trustworthy than paid ads. This is because they are not affiliated with the company, making their insights more genuine and honest. However, over the last several years, creator partnerships have blurred this line causing debate about its effectiveness.

By leveraging earned media, you can establish a more credible and trustworthy reputation among your stakeholders. In addition, by taking the time to understand and measure this valuable resource, businesses can create more effective marketing strategies, ultimately resulting in greater success and profitability.

Earned media measurement can give you critical insights into your brand’s relevance with the media, reporters, and the general public. 

Understanding Advertising Equivalent Value First

Advertising equivalent value is an earned media metric that attempts to quantify the value of PR by comparing it to what you would spend in advertising. The methodology is basic. You calculate what you would spend on paid media to reach the same audience that you have with your earned media coverage. This cost is then used as the value of the earned media.

For example, let’s say you get a mention in The New York Times, and the ad rate for a full-page ad in the paper is $250,00. So you would assign a value of $250,000 to the earned media mention.

Industry pros have heavily criticized the metric for years, and it’s not used as much as it used to be. Although some still use their “go-to” earned media metrics, I would not recommend it for many reasons I’ll explain later. Many proponents of Advertising Equivalent Value have shifted towards Earned Media Value (EMV).

What is Earned Media Value (EMV)?

Earned Media Value (EMV) is a metric used to determine the value of non-paid media coverage, such as news articles, social media mentions, and reviews. This type of coverage is called “earned media” because it is generated organically rather than purchased, as is advertising.

Each earned media placement is assigned a monetary value to calculate EMV. This value is determined by comparing advertising rates for similar placements in the same publication, channel, or program. In other words, the worth is determined by asking, “How much would it cost to run an ad in the same space as this earned media coverage?”

Paid search campaigns can sometimes be used as proxies to establish a benchmark for earned media. This means that the performance of a paid search campaign could be used to compare the worth of earned media placements.

Finally, Earned Media Value (EMV) is conceptually and mathematically similar to Advertising Equivalent Value (AEV). Another metric for estimating earned media value is AEV, which compares the cost of equivalent advertising placements. By using advertising rates as a common reference point, both EMV and AEV aim to quantify the impact of earned media.

Why is Earned Media Value Flawed?

There’s a reason why most PR pros don’t use earned media value to measure impact. Not only is it an outdated metric, but there are three main problems with using EMV to measure campaigns:

  1. Earned Media Value focuses on outputs, not outcomes
  2. Earned Media Value considers all coverage equally
  3. Earned Media Value is highly subjective

Let’s take a closer look at each of these challenges.

Earned Media Value Focuses on Outputs, Not Outcomes

The biggest problem with EMV is that it focuses on outputs, not outcomes. Outputs are the number of placements you receive in earned media. Outcomes are the business results of your PR efforts.

For example, let’s say you’re trying to increase brand awareness of your company. Therefore, your campaign aims to reach as many people as possible with your message. In this case, output-based metrics like EMV might be a decent way to measure your program because the more placements you get, the more people will see your message.

Earned media value is a flawed metric.

However, if your goal is to increase sales among existing customers, output-based metrics like EMV won’t work. In this case, you must focus on outcome-based metrics like sales, conversions, or web traffic from earned media placements.

Earned Media Value Considers All Coverage Equally

Another problem with EMV is that it values all media coverage equally. This is a problem because we all know that coverage in The New York Times is not the same as in a local business outlet or a blog.

EMV also doesn’t differentiate between the type of coverage. Is it positive or negative? A media mention in a positive article is worth more than a mention in a negative one, but EMV doesn’t consider that. It also doesn’t differentiate between a headline mention, pass-through mention, or a mention where you are mentioned and your competitors aren’t.

All media coverage is not created equal, and the EMV calculation doesn’t consider that in the formula.

Earned Media Value is Highly Subjective

Finally, EMV is highly subjective. This is because the value of each placement is determined by the person doing the calculation. And, as we all know, people are notoriously bad at estimating value. This means that the EMV of placement could be vastly different depending on who is doing the calculation. This subjectivity is compounded because there is no standard formula for calculating EMV. As a result, each person can (and will) use their method to determine a placement’s value.

So, what’s the bottom line? Earned Media Value is a flawed metric that should be avoided when measuring PR campaigns. Instead, if you’re looking for a way to measure your progress, focus on outcome-based metrics like sales or web traffic from earned media placements.

The Data Behind Earned Media Value is Also Flawed

Earned impressions are the standard data point in measuring both Advertising Equivalent Value and Earned Media Value.

Most people calculate earned impressions using UVMs, which stands for unique visitors monthly. Media monitoring platforms have integrations with SimilarWeb, SEMrush, or other web analytics platforms that provide this data type.

However, the UVM media metric equates to web traffic at the domain level, not the article level. This means the article you secured is one of the thousands of web pages on that media site. I’m not sure how many people know this.

Let’s explore this further.

The below screenshot from SEMrush shows web traffic from Fortune.com being 17.4M total visits and 14.3M unique visitors in May. UVMs are “unique” visitors, which will always be less than the total visits because one person can visit the website more than once.

To illustrate this point further, let’s assume you have a product launch and your agency secured media coverage on Fortune.com. They sent you a report that suggests your media coverage in Fortune generated 14.3M impressions. It may look good on a PowerPoint slide, and perhaps your CMO may pat your back for a “job well done.” But this is how impressions are calculated for both AVE and EMV, and it’s inaccurate.

Maybe now you can understand why this is a flawed metric.

An image of advertising value equivalency AVE

Impressions aside, let’s look at this from a different perspective.

I shouldn’t have to build or defend an argument that an article on the front page of the New York Times has more value than a full-site media buy.

If you agree, why would you compare a placement written by a trusted third-party source to that of a media buy? It doesn’t make sense to me because it diminishes the value and credibility of “earned media.”

There are media measurement platforms today that give interesting brand data, though. Memo is a relatively new media measurement analytics platform that provides web analytics directly from the publisher’s websites. In other words, if you get coverage in Fortune, Memo will give you unique visitors, referral websites, scroll depth, and other metrics at the article level. This is a massive step in measuring real earned media value.

The only challenge with Memo is that it can get costly, so it may not be ideal for smaller brands. Also, Memo only has partnerships with US media companies and is limited to only the more prominent media outlets.

10 Reasons Not To Use Earned Media Value

While EMV can provide some insights, it has several limitations and criticisms:

  1. Subjectivity: The calculation of EMV can vary widely between organizations. There’s no standardized formula, so two companies might assign different values to the same piece of earned media.
  2. Over-simplification: Assigning a single dollar value to a complex interaction like a social media mention or a news article can oversimplify the actual impact of that interaction. Not all mentions or exposures have the same impact on brand perception or sales.
  3. Lack of Correlation with Business Outcomes: Just because a brand has a high EMV doesn’t necessarily mean it will increase sales or other business outcomes. EMV doesn’t account for the sentiment or context of a mention, so a negative news story could still have a high EMV.
  4. Doesn’t Account for Audience Quality: A niche publication that directly targets a brand’s core audience might be more valuable than a mention in a more general publication with a larger audience. EMV doesn’t differentiate between these scenarios.
  5. Potential for Manipulation: Since there’s no standardized way to calculate EMV, it’s possible for organizations to manipulate their formulas to produce more favorable results.
  6. Doesn’t Measure Engagement: EMV typically measures exposure but doesn’t account for the audience’s engagement with the content. For instance, a social media post might be seen by many people, but if very few of them interact with it or take further action, its actual value might be limited.
  7. Comparability Issues: Because of the lack of standardization, comparing EMV values across brands or industries is challenging. This makes benchmarking and competitive analysis difficult.
  8. Overemphasis on Quantity Over Quality: EMV can sometimes prioritize the sheer volume of mentions over the quality or relevance of those mentions.
  9. Sentiment Analysis Limitations: While some EMV calculations try incorporating sentiment analysis to differentiate between positive and negative mentions, sentiment analysis tools are not always accurate, especially when dealing with sarcasm, humor, or complex sentiments.
  10. Focus on Short-term Impact: EMV often emphasizes immediate exposure and doesn’t account for the long-term effects of earned media, such as trust-building or sustained brand awareness.

In conclusion, while EMV can offer some insights into the value of earned media, it’s essential to approach it with caution and consider it as just one of many metrics in a comprehensive PR and marketing analysis.

How Does Influencer Marketing Play Into This?

Short answer, it doesn’t.

Measuring an influencer marketing campaign is not part of any earned media value metric. For example, an Instagram influencer may mention your brand and post content with high engagement rates, but it should be tracked separately. However, many marketers believe there is a level of publicity value when working with influencers, and some have gone as far as creating an influencer media value calculator.

Final Thoughts on Earned Media Metrics

Earned media value estimates what you would have paid for the same amount of impressions using some form of paid media.

To summarize, suppose you receive 10 million earned media impressions from a product launch. To calculate a value, you must determine what you must pay in paid media to get 10 million impressions.

Let’s say your media plan tells you it would cost $200,000 to get 10 million impressions in display advertising. In this case, the earned media value would be $200,000. Some even look at it as cost savings.

The main problem with this metric is that it compares apples to oranges. So you’re measuring the value of an article written by a trusted third-party source and comparing it to the value of a paid media buy.

In addition, most people use web traffic data from web analytics platforms like SimilarWeb or SEMrush to calculate impressions. Still, this data is flawed because it only measures web traffic at the domain level, not the article level.

Even if you could accurately measure impressions, you’re still left with the problem of comparing earned media to paid media, like comparing apples to oranges. Therefore, I always encourage PR pros to build their marketing analytics skills. Doing so will ensure you don’t measure your PR programs using earned media value.

What is the Value of Earned Media vs Paid Media?

Earned and paid media have unique values and play essential roles in a brand’s overall marketing strategy. Understanding the differences and advantages of each can help companies make informed decisions when allocating resources and planning their campaigns.

AspectEarned MediaPaid Media
DefinitionMedia coverage that is generated organically rather than purchased.Media exposure that is directly paid for.
CredibilityViewed as more credible and trustworthy by the audience due to third-party sources.Controlled by the brand, so might be perceived as less genuine.
CostHighly cost-effective as it doesn’t require direct payment for coverage.Requires a budget for advertisements, sponsored content, or promotions.
ReachOrganic reach with potential for virality.Targeted reach with precise audience segments.
LongevityLong-lasting impact on brand reputation.Immediate results but might not have long-term impact.
ControlLess control over messaging, timing, and placement.Greater control over messaging, timing, and placement.
ResultsResults might take time to manifest but can lead to increased brand awareness and improved reputation.Immediate results like increased traffic and brand visibility.
ScalabilityDepends on organic growth and relationships with media outlets.Can be scaled up or down based on budget and desired outcomes.
MeasurabilityMore challenging to measure directly but can assess through brand awareness, sentiment, and organic engagement.Extensive data and analytics capabilities, allowing for real-time insights and adjustments.
Unique AdvantagesCredibility, cost-effectiveness, organic growth, and long-term impact.Control, immediate results, scalability, and direct measurability.

Value of Earned Media:

  • Credibility: As earned media results from third-party sources such as news articles, reviews, or social media mentions, it is often perceived as more credible and trustworthy by the audience. Consumers tend to view these unbiased sources as more reliable than branded content, which can lead to a more significant influence on their purchasing decisions.
  • Cost-Effective: Earned media can be highly cost-effective since it does not require direct payment for coverage. Instead, it relies on building strong relationships with media outlets, influencers, and the target audience. This can lead to significant long-term returns on investment.
  • Organic Reach: Earned media can organically extend a brand’s reach, as audiences are more likely to share and engage with content they find valuable or interesting. This viral effect can increase brand awareness and improve reputation without additional advertising spend.
  • Longevity: Earned media often has a longer-lasting impact on a brand’s reputation than paid media. Positive coverage or endorsements from credible sources can continue to generate value over time as audiences discover and share the content.

Value of Paid Media

  • Control: With paid media, such as advertisements, sponsored content, or social media promotions, brands have greater control over the messaging, timing, and placement of their content. This allows for more precise targeting and reaching specific audience segments.
  • Immediate Results: Paid media campaigns can generate immediate results by driving traffic, increasing brand visibility, and creating awareness. This can be particularly beneficial for time-sensitive promotions or new product launches.
  • Scalability: Paid media campaigns can be scaled up or down based on the available budget, goals, and desired outcomes. This flexibility allows brands to optimize their marketing efforts for maximum return on investment.
  • Measurability: Paid media campaigns offer extensive data and analytics capabilities, allowing marketers to track performance, measure results, and adjust their strategies based on real-time insights.

Earned and paid media provide distinct values contributing to a brand’s overall marketing success. Examples of earned media offer credibility, cost-effectiveness, organic reach, and longevity, while paid media provides control, immediate results, scalability, and measurability. Therefore, a well-rounded marketing strategy should combine earned and paid media to maximize each approach’s benefits.


Is earned media value a credible metric?

There are various ways to measure the value of earned media, but I believe that using impressions as a metric is flawed. Measuring unique visitors or web analytics at the article level is a more accurate way to understand the value of earned media.

Who created “earned media value”?

Marketing and advertising pros created the term “earned media value” to measure their earned media campaigns’ return on investment (ROI). It compares the amount of money spent on a campaign against the resulting increase in revenue or engagement.

Why is it important to measure the value of earned media?

Measuring the value of earned media is essential for a few reasons. First, marketers and PR pros can determine whether their campaigns are successful and provide actual business value. Second, it helps them allocate their budgets more effectively by targeting the channels that provide the best return on investment.

What other ways to measure the value of earned media?

There are a few other ways to measure the value of earned media, though none are as accurate or reliable as the engagement or ROI metric. Other methods include article shares and engagement, web traffic from an earned media program, or assigning a monetary value to each earned media mention.

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Michael Brito

Michael Brito is a Digital OG. He’s been building brands online since Al Gore invented the Internet. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter.