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Expert Q&A

How Earned Media Coverage Helps Gain Trust in Tobacco Control Advocacy

Vital Strategies

Using media advocacy to generate earned media is an effective and cost-efficient way to advance tobacco control. We sat down with Benjamin Gonzalez Rubio Aguilar, Vital Strategies’ Communications Manager in Mexico to learn more about what it is, how to secure it, why it is such an important tobacco control advocacy tool and how to maximize its potential.   

Benjamin Gonzalez Rubio discusses the importance of a comprehensive tobacco control law in Mexico, that includes 100% smoke-free places and ban taps with 24 horas newspaper.

What is earned media?

Essentially, it’s coverage about your program or initiative that appears in media sources that you haven’t paid for—it’s media coverage that’s been earned! The tobacco industry puts considerable effort into promoting its business through media, and getting media attention on tobacco control initiatives can be a useful tool in countering the industry’s narrative. Examples of earned media include: 

  • newspaper stories about your activities
  • TV and radio stories and interviews
  • social media posts from traditional media (radio, TV, billboards, print) or key opinion leaders that mention your work
  • editorials and opinion articles

Why is earned media important for tobacco control initiatives? 

Earned media is seen as the most trustworthy form of media advocacy. Because it comes from a third party and is not paid for, it can give your message even more credibility and legitimacy. To your audience, a story about tobacco control must be important if the media has decided to cover it. 


Earned media for tobacco control has amazing benefits. For example, if you’re being interviewed about your work, you can to a large extent, control the message, how your information is presented and can speak directly to your audience with credibility. Earned media can also supports the efforts of local and international partners to advance tobacco control policies that can protect millions of lives.  


Of course, there are challenges too. Keeping tobacco control on the public agenda means constantly working with the media, but it can be difficult to get attention from news channels or journalists. And once you do, you can’t always control the agenda. But there are steps you can take to ensure you’re well prepared, including familiarizing yourself with the journalists’ previous work and opinions about a topic to help you plan for their questions and rehearsing your speech or answers to possible questions they may pose.  

How do you measure the impact of earned media?

One metric for measuring earned media is earned media value (EMV). It is the monetary value of the exposure you gained on third-party sites, media outlets and social media content through your public relations (PR) advocacy actions. It represents what you would have had to pay to media outlets to reach the same level of coverage or engagement. For example, let’s say that a radio interview had a duration of five minutes with a top host of a news channel. An interview in that space would have an extremely high cost. The EMV is what you would have had to pay to be on air during that time.  


EMV is also an important metric to share with partner organizations, donors and executives within your organization to communicate the value of this earned coverage. 

How has earned media helped a project you’ve worked on? 

Over the last year a big policy win in Mexico took place. The congress approved a nation-wide 100% smoke-free policy, banning smoking in public places and banning tobacco promotion, advertising and sponsorship. This effort was made in conjunction with local partners and international organizations including Vital Strategies. Earned media, including interviews on national TV and radio shows and press conference coverage and press releases, played a big role in this win by informing millions of people about the potential changes and increasing public demand for new protections that would help reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.  


Our PR efforts with journalists and media outlets—including meetings and sharing information and talking with them about the importance of tobacco control—resulted in tobacco control activities being covered by Forbes, Business Insider, Yahoo! Finance, ADN40, Radio Formula, Imagen Radio, Milenio TV and in tweets from recognized journalists like Mariano Riva Palacio. The EMV of all of this coverage was more than USD $561,000—an estimate of what the tobacco control community would have had to pay for the same level of coverage had no PR actions been taken. 

How can advocates increase their chances of securing earned media?

Earned media should be an important component of tobacco control advocates’ efforts and activities. To increase your chances of securing earned media: 

  1. Demonstrate your expertise. Create engaging owned content, such as blogs and social media posts. High-quality owned content can establish you as an authority on a topic and will garner engagement and shares from media outlets.
  2. Use all your channels for your owned content. Don’t limit yourself to only social media or your newsletter, use all your channels including organizational websites and email newsletters
  3. Create and maintain earned media relationships. You need to build trust. Share a steady stream of information on topics the journalists write about and have regular meetings, even more casual coffee meetings with journalists and editorialists.  

Earned media informs the public of tobacco control efforts through the lens of a trusted media source—whether it’s an interview with a respected journalist, an opinion piece that’s published in a widely read newspaper or even a retweet from an influential figure. Securing this coverage requires ongoing work, but can provide big pay-offs at an excellent value.  

Learn more about our tobacco control work here and here, follow us on Twitter @VitalStrat and stay up to date on the latest in tobacco control by signing up for our newsletter.  

About Vital Strategies’ work in tobacco control:     

Vital Strategies works in more than 40 countries to support the adoption of proven policies to reduce tobacco use. Our global team of experts use policy, advocacy and strategic communication to help governments adopt lifesaving, public health “best buys” like comprehensive smoke-free laws and high tobacco taxes.   

Our evidence-based public education campaigns have been seen by more than 2 billion people around the world. We partnered with the American Cancer Society to produce The Tobacco Atlas (sixth ed.), the most comprehensive report on the evolving global tobacco epidemic, and support production of WHO’s MPOWER reports.   

Vital Strategies is a main partner in the $1 billion Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, and a partner in the global tobacco industry watchdog, Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products (STOP).