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2023 saw a huge increase in earned media investment – expect the same from 2024

By Matt Robbins, Vice president, insights and research



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January 15, 2024 | 7 min read

Matt Robbins of Team Lewis unpacks data from the agency’s marketing engagement tracker, which shows a marked uptick in ‘media attainment’. Expect the trend to continue in 2024, he says.

Some newspapers, stacked vertically, spine-up

Earned media investment is still rising, says Team Lewis' Matt Robbins / AbsolutVision via Unsplash

What did your marketing look like in 2023? If you’re anything like the 300 brands we analyzed for Team Lewis’ annual Marketing Engagement Tracker (MET), you probably upped your earned media investment. We anticipate this trend will continue in 2024.

In our sixth year analyzing the marketing efforts of brands from the Forbes top 2000 list, our Fall 2023 report found significant shifts. Most noteworthy, out of nine different marketing categories in which we compare year-to-year changes, media attainment jumped from 34.6% in 2022 to 70.1% in 2023. This category looks at how well companies attain earned media through senior leaders as spokespeople and owned content.

For years, MET data has shown continuous investment in brand websites and other digital properties. However, the 2023 results show an uptick in brands leveraging earned media for broader marketing purposes. For example, in addition to including references in the ‘news’ section of their websites, we saw brands highlighting high-value mentions on their homepage. This is relevant because earned media can build awareness and add authenticity to a brand, increasing the chance of converting prospects visiting a company’s website.

“Earned media is an invaluable part of brand building as it creates third-party validation through unbiased endorsements and organic conversations,” says our colleague Stephanie Proos, vice president, consumer at Team Lewis. “It not only cultivates trust, but also propels a brand beyond traditional marketing tactics, establishing a lasting connection with media and their readers.”

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Earned media in 2024

We anticipate the increased focus in earned media for brands will only continue in 2024. A well-thought-out earned strategy can enhance SEO, digital marketing, and social media outcomes. It also serves as an important tactic to combat the erosion of trust in companies we are seeing in sectors like technology. As trust in organizations goes down, earned media is the best way to reestablish confidence in prospects and customers’ minds.

Another finding from the MET media data was the substantial year-over-year growth in brands investing in original thought leadership research. While a costly and time-consuming endeavor, thought leadership research and resulting owned content is a very effective way to educate target audiences. It demonstrates that the brand understands the problems that they face.

“In the vast marketing landscape, thought leadership content isn’t just a sign of expertise; it’s the cornerstone of brand influence. This ownable content elevates a brand’s narrative and unlocks earned media opportunities. Thus, the cost translates into an investment in fostering authentic conversations. This leads to forging lasting connections, and ultimately, redefining the narrative landscape in the brand’s favor,” said Proos.

The evolving marketing mix

There are signs of a tradeoff effect occurring across the full marketing mix, though.

In 2024, while companies are expected to continue investing in media efforts, it’s critical the focus doesn’t become too narrow. So, while company websites may be getting bigger and hold more targeted content, the risk is that website UX and performance may suffer. With the heavy reliance on new MarTech suites and the increased reliance on APIs for data access, outside cyber threats could become a blind spot.

Additionally, innovation and exploration should underline marketing efforts to keep pace with ever-changing audience behaviors.

“In 2024, embracing earned media relations as a constant in your strategy is pivotal. But, the real game-changer lies in adopting a comprehensive, full-funnel approach,” said Proos. “Brands should consider allocating funds towards previously overlooked marketing investment areas. This includes immersive experiential campaigns, interactive content, and working with content creators. These areas ensure not just visibility but meaningful engagement across every stage of the customer journey.”

So, to understand where we’re headed, let’s take a quick look back.

Our 2022 MET revealed fears of a looming recession among brands. The reality, as illustrated by our most recent data, is that brands were more resilient than anticipated. 2024 will bring new and unique challenges, but continued investment in a full marketing mix will fortify against these and lead to greater reward.

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