3 Types of Media: Owned, Paid, and Earned

Public Relations

Blog posts, twitter, online news, cable TV, vines, facebook, mobile device video, press releases, infographics, podcasts, illustrations, webinars, white papers, ebooks, FAQs, bios, awards, tutorials, photos, data, articles, surveys, testimonials, reviews, presentations – it’s enough to make your head spin. We are in the midst of an unprecedented era of content creation and media exposure.

With so many options out there, it’s important to understand the differences, appropriate uses, and shortcomings of different types of media: Owned, Paid, and Earned.

So let’s get to it.

Owned Media

Owned Media is what it says. Everything you own or create. Owned media includes your social media marketing, blog posts, your website, collateral, press releases, employee sharing, white papers, case studies, and so on.  Owned media is very important because Google likes it.  The more (owned) quality content you put out on the web, the higher Google ranks your site, and this improves your organic SEO.  We all love organic SEO because it moves our company closer to page one, position one when our prospects search for our keywords on Google.

People, including me sometimes, love to say that this increase in organic SEO ranking is “free”.  I say this because I’ve created the content and when we put it out we’re not paying for ads on Google.  However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.  Creating quality content costs a lot.  I will repeat, creating quality content is costly.  If you’re the content creator you’re going to be spending your time. Lots of time which could be used doing other things and in essence is taking you away from growing your business in other ways.  If you’re paying someone to create the content you’ll want to keep in mind the old adage “You get what you pay for.”

We work with a lot of companies creating content and we always kick off the conversations with a very frank discussion about budget.  Clients sometimes see cut-rate copywriting rates on Craigslist or eLance.  These rates look very attractive when you’re setting up your budget but it’s important to remember your owned content lasts forever.  If it’s good it can be repurposed, it will engage readers, and you will recoup your investment many times over.  Go the budget route and you’re most likely just throwing words on a wall hoping they improve your page rank — which they won’t because nobody likes to read crappy content, which in turn ensures Google won’t increase your page rankings.


Paid Media

Paid Media is advertising.  You exchange actual dollars for the media.  This could be TV commercials, TV pay-for-play spots disguised as infomercials,  billboards, magazine ads, Google Adwords, LinkedIn paid placements, promoted tweets, banner ads, etc.

Paid media definitely has it’s rightful place in the promotional quiver.  If it didn’t work you wouldn’t see a jazillon Coca-Cola and Chevy commercials on every media format that touches our brains.  However, the downside is it can be very expensive and out of reach for many companies.  Opportunities like Google Adwords are affordable but they are only the front end of the puzzle.  Once you entice prospects to click on your advertisement you need to drop them at another form of media, typically your website (owned media).  Economically, there is a cost per click (CPC) for each times a prospect clicks on your add.  If you want to reach 1,000,000 prospects for example that could cost 3-10x that in actual dollars.  The good news is Google allows customers to set a budget and stop running ads once that budget is hit.  So if you have a budget of $3000 a month for Adwords that’s all you’ll spend.  But what if your audience is 1,000,000 people? That’s a lot of eyeballs that will never be introduced to your products/services since Google Adwords is the gate keeper (in this example).  Conversely, if you want to introduce 1,000,000 target new prospects to your company, you could do this with a large ad buy in a major print magazine (i.e. TIME) or on TV. But now you’re talking big, big bucks. A couple hundred thousand dollars.  And research has proven that one ad doesn’t work.  You need to buy a series of ads and get in front of the prospects on a regular basis.  It’s like Alice in Wonderland and going down the rabbit hole. Once you jump, you’re committed and there’s no guarantee it’s going to work.


Earned Media

The 3rd and if you couldn’t tell by now, my favorite type of media is earned media. Earned media is simply other people talking about you, your products, and services.  Another way to define earned media is 3rd party validation. From my perspective there is no better way of influencing prospects to your company.  Earned media reaches mass numbers of prospects, just like those big expensive advertising campaigns we talked about earlier. However, the cost of generating earned media is only a fraction of traditional advertising — and it’s more believable.

Think about it for a moment.  Here’s a real life scenario I’m going through right now. I have a large tree in my yard that needs some trimming.  So, when looking for a tree trimmer what is the process? We no longer go to the yellow pages. Our first instinct is probably to ask a neighbor who they use. If they have “a guy” that they like we get the number, call, and hire the tree trimmer to come out and do the job.  I don’t ask a million questions or vet the tree trimmer.  I know that’s already been done by my neighbor, someone I trust.   If my neighbor doesn’t have a ready to go recommendation the next step is to go to Google and put in “tree trimmer”. I don’t know about you but when I put “tree trimmer” in Google, I just don’t trust those top results with “Ad” in the gold box.  My defenses go up because I know that those companies paid to be there — and I don’t trust them.

Public relations, Boulder PR
Paid Search Results

Our data shows that for our Boulder public relations clients that we have a 90% close rate on those prospects that are referred to us from former clients or other Denver-area PR firms.  People believe other, seemingly impartial people.

Our sales cycle is much longer when we engage with new prospects who have found us by doing research on the web.  We spend more time educating, building trust, and following up during the pre-sales process and as a result our CPS (cost per sale) is much higher.  This is the same for every business in the world.

Don’t take my word for it. The studies below put data behind the words:

What impacts action?


public relations
Word of Mouth (WOM) and Public Relations activity are the top trusted sources by consumers.

Source: Nielson 2013

A recent study from Nielson shows that the top 4 forms of “advertising” that people trust are:


1. Recommendation from people I know

2. Branded websites

3. Consumer opinions posted online

4. Editorial content such as newspaper articles


Remarkably, every format that is defined as an “ad” was at the bottom of the list. Do you find this surprising? Makes sense doesn’t it?

Looking at the 3 types of media which type do you think is the best fit for your company? Most marketing programs have some combination of the three.  What differs is how much budget is spent on each and what kind of impact and return a company will see on each type of media.

To recap:


Owned Media = “Hey everybody.  Our company is great. We know a lot (read our Whitepapers), we’re super funny & smart (as evidenced by our social channels), and our products & services are the best ever (see our website).”

Paid Media = “Hey everybody. Our company is great and has lots of money.  We are going to get our name in front of you repeatedly.  Celebrities like Aston Kutcher think we’re great (because we paid him to say so). Hopefully you’ll identify with the fantasy we created and buy our product or services.”

Earned Media = “Hey everybody. I’m an unbiased journalist or influencer and I think this company is great.  You can trust me to only write about things that are truly great.  Read all about in this article I wrote (and then go buy these products & services).”

What’s your experience with the 3 types of media discussed? Join the discussion and leave your comments below.

Lastly, please feel free to contact us directly.  You can always send us a message via our contact form or email me directly at: mgutman at wildstory dot com

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up next:

Social Media Management: Best Ways to Schedule Social Media Posts

Developing a social media management strategy is no longer optional, it’s a must have for your business.  First creating a social media calendar, then scheduling social media posts at least a few weeks, and sometimes even months, in advance is important in order to gain followers and increase engagement on all of your social channels.


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