It means more when you earn it… really.

At some point in your life, someone has said it to you.

“It means so much more when you earn it.”

And, while you might not want to hear it, you know it’s true.

Otherwise, you wouldn’t train for months for that half-marathon when you could just go out and buy yourself the T-shirt and the medal.

You wouldn’t spend hours baking a cake from scratch and decorating it when Food Lion already has one with Barbie on it.. prepackaged with candles, plates and decorative napkins.

And you certainly wouldn’t have spent years of your life and countless hours with your nose in a book to receive a piece of paper recognizing your graduation when you could have just Photoshopped the same document with your own name.

It DOES mean more when you earn it… and business recognition is no different.

When it comes to media exposure, it falls into two categories: paid media and earned media.

Paid media is just what it says.  It’s the presence in the media that you buy.  These are your newspaper, radio and television ads.  Paid media is your chance to control the message and say exactly what you want your customers or clients to hear.  But here’s the thing.  They know that.

EARNED media is that sometimes unpredictable, but terrific opportunity when your business gets exposure in a news story or an editorial.  Earned media, at its best, is when you’re caught doing something good and all the world gets to see it.  Of course, you can’t control the message of earned media, but sometimes, you can create the opportunities, and that’s exactly what I encourage my clients to do.

As a business owner, you’re probably approached more times than you can count to donate cash, products or services for an array of worthy causes.  Of course, you can’t say yes to everyone,  but I would encourage you to say yes as often as you can.  The key: set the terms that make for a win-win situation.  A local school is collecting money for their new playground?  Make a donation, but also volunteer the man power to go help build it.  A charity would like a donation for their silent auction?  Send a couple of your employees to work the event.  Race organizers come to your door for a cash donation?  Volunteer to be on the committee, or better yet, donate the water and the cups– branded with your business.

Of course your primary role is to keep your business running, but seek out visible opportunities a couple of times a year, then don’t be afraid to send out a press release to tell the media what your business is doing to help in the community.  You’re not going to get coverage EVERY time, but when you do, the story will be worth more than the full-page ad you just purchased.  For the times that you don’t get media exposure, remember, you’re getting the exposure in your community– and make the most of it.  When participating in a community event, make sure that you or your employees are wearing your business t-shirts, driving your labelled vehicles, and very identifiable.  When you make a donation, donate something with your name on it.

Earned-media is definitely more work than paid-media, but I’m not the first, and I won’t be the last to tell you, “It just means more when you earn it.”