You’ve got a new product, you’ve hit a milestone for your company, or you’re looking to build a profile for your brand.

    What do you need?

    A media strategy.

    But wait: when we use the term ‘media’ what are we talking about exactly?

    The world of media and public relations is not always straightforward and that’s because ‘media’ is a big tent. In this big tent we find the media you pay for (for example, TV advertising), the media you don’t pay for (for example, a news story on your company), and the media you control (for example, your company blog).

    In PR circles these three types of media are described respectively as paid, earned, and owned media, and distinguishing between them – and taking full advantage of each – is one of the keys to getting your product, service, company, or brand the coverage it deserves.

    In this post we’re going to explain the difference between these three media types and how your business can take the best advantage of each to ensure that your PR efforts are not wasted.

    Defining Paid, Earned and Owned Media

    Let’s start with some definitions – here’s a helpful video to work through the basics:

    To summarize:

    Paid media is when a brand places communications in environments owned by third parties.

    Earned media refers to third-party endorsements of a brand.

    Owned media are a brand’s own assets, which give it direct contact consumers.

    Let’s break down each of these areas a little more and explain how each can help your business, and how best to take advantage of the medium.

    Paid Media


    The first thing to remember about paid media is right there in the name: it is going to cost you something up front.

    Borrowing someone else’s platform to promote your business is the cost of using paid media, and it can sometimes be significant. This should encourage you, then, to make sure that your paid media spend is as well-targeted as possible.

    Good paid media outlets will help businesses with their targeting knowing that the more effective a campaign is the more likely that they’ll be able to attract that business to advertise again – and the more they’ll be able to charge when the repeat business comes in, too. As a result, asking for details like website traffic or print circulation is entirely normal and expected, and most paid media outlets will offer these details and more (demographics, breakdowns by gender and economic status, and typical success rates) as a matter of course.

    For do-it-yourself paid media targeting such as Google AdWords, Facebook advertising, or Twitter advertising targeting is usually advanced and targeting even a specific individual user is possible, as long as you know enough about that person and their tastes.

    The advantages of paid media are essentially threefold: you can target you audience effectively, you get great exposure for your content, product, or brand, and your audience is essentially guaranteed.

    The disadvantages? This costs you – and it can be a significant cost, too.

    And this cost is the reason why a paid media-only strategy is rarely, if ever, pursued by businesses.

    Earned Media


    Earned media is cheap.

    Getting your name, your photo, and your products in front of a reporter and then having that reporter write positive things about your company is an exercise in time and relationship management, not money.

    So why doesn’t everyone rely on earned media instead of paid media and save their collective companies millions in advertising costs?

    Simply put, it’s there in the name again: you need to earn this media coverage and not every business is capable of pulling that off.

    Not every company has a product that will inspire others to write about it for free. Not very product is going to find a celebrity or media endorsement for free, and not every product is going to be worthy of a five star review on Amazon or restaurant worthy of a five-star review on Yelp.

    To win earned media, then, a business needs to concentrate on a couple of things: being unique, and establishing contact with influencers and journalists. The former will ensure you have something to talk about, and the latter will ensure that you have someone to talk to.

    The advantages? Cost savings compared to paid media, the credibility that comes from having non-paid spokespeople endorse your product in public, and raising brand awareness through the networks of others.

    The disadvantages? You’ll have to spend time working on why your particular product is so different to your competitors, and convincing influencers and journalists to be as excited as you are about your company. You’ll spend hours, even days, working journalist leads and while cheaper than paid media, it is not always insignificant, either.

    Owned Media


    If your company is all about saving money on their PR spend then owned media is where it is at.

    The cost is zero – at least once you have the space to promote your business all set up and running. A company blog, a company newsletter, and email list, a social media channel or two – all come at essentially zero additional cost to the business. While there is a not-insignificant cost to producing the publicity materials, content marketing, and managing the various social media feeds that the company chooses to use, this is a sunk cost for most businesses big enough to have at least one marketer on board.

    As well as the costs savings you are also guaranteed to present your brand exactly the way that you want to be presented. You don’t have to worry about your message getting muddled, and if you somehow make an error it is easy to correct immediately, something that isn’t always possible in a newspaper advertisement or an otherwise glowing editorial with a single glaring error.

    So what’s the downside then?

    First, the audience is almost always guaranteed to be smaller than what you can buy or earn.

    Second, the self-endorsement that you pen is never going to have the credibility of an endorsement from a neutral third-party. Think of the difference between a salesperson telling you their product is the best ever and your best friend telling you the same thing: who will you lend greater credence to?

    Choosing Between Paid, Earned and Owned Media

    So how do you choose between paid, earned, and owned media?

    The simple answer is you don’t.

    A good public relations and communications strategy is going to use all three types of media to raise awareness about the product, the service, your brand, and your company. And for good reason.

    By strategically combining these three media types your business can reap the key benefits of each:

    • the targeted advertising of paid media;
    • the trusted endorsements of earned media; and,
    • the low-cost and perfect presentation of owned media.

    In the infographic below from Column 5, the means by which you decide where to put your focus and how to divide your content between the different types of media are explained and explored.


    Over to you: what strategies have you employed to take advantage of paid, earned, or owned media? What has proved the most successful for you? Let us know in comments below or on Twitter!


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