There are many ways of getting your organization’s message across to the world. Broadly, these fall into three categories: Paid Media, Owned Media, and Earned Media. Each of these PR channels has its own strengths and weaknesses, and each serves an important role in developing a strong media mix.
Paid Media are channels that require you to invest money to reach your audience. This is what immediately comes to mind when you think about advertising, including:
- TV commercials
- Print ads in newspapers and magazines
- Radio commercials
- OOH such as billboards, bus stop signage, etc.
Paid media can refer to any number of digital media as well, including:
- Webpage banners
- Programmatic display
- Paid social media (both direct ads and promoted posts)
- Podcast/streaming radio spots
- Native content advertising
- OOT/streaming video commercials
If you need to put down dollars to make your message seen, it’s Paid Media. Because you’re paying for a service, Paid Media channels often offer robust targeting parameters (particularly with digital channels) for reaching specific audiences. This makes paid media a good choice for branding, advertising, and building awareness for a brand or individual.
The term “Owned Media” refers to any messaging channel that you or your brand own directly and have absolute control over the content that gets published. With these channels, beyond the cost to set them up and maintain them, there is no money exchanging hands, and you can publish as much or as little as you desire. This most frequently takes place on a brand’s website or blog, via emails sent to mailing lists an audience has opted in to, and unpaid social media activity (i.e. organic posting and community interaction that goes unboosted).
Content distributed through owned media channels allows for a great deal of control over who can access and view the content and what they can do with it. It also can be the hardest channel to build an audience through. Because you’re not paying to get your content in front of people, Owned Media channels often build audiences slowly, and require more long-term strategy and consistency.
Earned Media is a major goal of most PR campaigns. Earned Media comes from outside an organization, with organic messaging from audience members devoid of organizational input. At its core, Earned Media is “word of mouth.” Any time that anyone in a position to influence another person’s opinions or habits shares your message with that person, it’s Earned Media.
In the past, Earned Media referred more strictly to coverage in newspapers/magazines, newscasts, and radio shows. Now, we think about Earned Media in terms of blogs, customer reviews, social media, and more. When a third party is sharing opinions or thoughts about a brand or organization, there is little to no controlling of the narrative. The benefit then is that audience members exposed to Earned Media content are more likely to believe that the messaging is true and/or authentic because it’s not coming directly from the horse’s mouth.
While Earned Media is free and generally regarded as trustworthy, it’s the only category where a brand has no control over the messaging, meaning that Earned Media is not going to always be positive. Customers can leave poor reviews, influencers may publicly dislike your platform, a journalist may write an expose that doesn’t paint your brand in the best light, etc.
The tradeoff for that free, high-converting Word of Mouth messaging is total lack of control over the message. That makes priming your audience with solid talking points through Paid and Owned Media and important part of mitigating risk when it comes to Earned Media, which is where a PR firm can be an important resource.
Most media models reflect the first three categories here, but a few newer models have started adding in a fourth: Shared Media. Shared Media refers to channels that are a blend of the first three categories. Social media is a great example.
Take Facebook. Here, you have Owned Media messaging, where you can put out any content your heart desires (given it falls within the Meta User Agreement). However, on the exact same platform, you can pay to boost your posts or do direct audience advertising—components of Paid Media channels. On top of all that, other users and followers of your brand can have conversations about your brand, leave reviews, and engage in discourse about your brand in a way that you can not directly exert any influence over—Earned Media. Because all three Media categories can take place on the same platform, it can be useful to think of Facebook (and other social platforms) as a Shared Media channel.
A Meaningful Mix
In practice, no one category of media is going to get the job done. Understanding how to blend Paid, Owned, and Earned media channels to build a comprehensive strategy and reach your audience is key to PR success. If your finance brand is having trouble navigating the dark waters of the PR world, Vested may just be the partner you need.