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What you need to know about earned, paid and owned media


The media has changed. There was a time, not so long ago, when businesses only wanted to be featured in broadsheets and broadcast outlets. That era is long gone. Now PRs have to navigate blogs, websites, video channels and a host of high-profile and emerging tech and business sites.

What follows is by no means the definitive list of the pros, cons and ways to improve your navigation of the new media landscape. But it does cover some of the basics and includes useful tips to provide you with some sense of direction.

Earned media

What is it?

Think of it as “traditional” PR. This is news, comments, exclusive stories, opinion articles and profile pieces. These are ideas that are pitched to the media that a journalist has deemed worthy of publication.

Pros:

• Low cost – big results – Nothing beats a powerful newsworthy story. Placed with the right journalist it can go a long way in reaching your target audience and encouraging them to act.
• Increased credibility – Everyone wants to be seen as knowledgeable and a leader in the market. Earned media achieves this by boosting your credibility with the people that matter most to you.
• Building powerful relationships – The more insight you can provide to journalists, the more credible you are. You cannot put a price on becoming the go-to contact for a journalist.

Cons:

• There are no guaranteed wins – However good you think your story or commentary is, there is no promise of publication. Just because your idea is interesting to you, that doesn’t mean it will be for a journalist.
• It takes time, a lot of time – Supplying one comment to a journalist is just the first step on a much longer road. To become the go-to thought leader you need consistency both in terms of comment quality and regularity.

How to improve:

• Be concise – Time is money. Keep comments and pitches short and to the point. Remember the what, why, when of a story.
• Be newsy – If a story is breaking and you have relevant comment then go for it. Never send old news or relate to stories that happened in the distant past.
• Research – Know who you are pitching and why. A tailored, precise pitch is going to have more impact and therefore more likely to be picked up than a generic pitch sent to a dozen (or a hundred) journalists.

Further reading:

• Tips from Mike Butcher
• Tips from Sujan Patel

Paid media

What is it?

It is exactly what it sounds like. It’s media that’s “bought” and therefore, comes in the form of advertorials, sponsored articles or paid-for interviews. Paid media allows you to demonstrate thought leadership and to promote your company and products.

Pros:

• Targeted – As you are paying for the article placement, you can select where it goes. This can be laser-focused on any horizontal or vertical market.
• Promotion – Unlike earned media, paid-for media can often allow you to promote products or talk specifically about what you can offer customers.
• Thought-leadership – Just as with earned media, paid media allows you to demonstrate your market leadership and help you stand out from your competitors.

Cons:

• Costs – Paid media naturally incurs costs. This can vary greatly depending on the publication, but either way it will require you to handover hard-earned money.
• Limited to one outlet – Because you are paying a publication to run a story, it will naturally be unlikely to be covered by other journalists. As a result, coverage is limited to just a single publication.

How to improve:

• Know the publication – Knowing where to place a piece is the key. Sometimes the smaller, niche outlets can be much more effective than larger top tier publications.
• Don’t be too salesy – Sure you want to mention your company and products, but never forget to provide insight, discussion and leadership. This will help keep readers engaged.
• Track the impact – Marketing Automation has made tracking the impact of your content campaigns and referred links from paid media should be no different to any other campaign. Track it and see the real impact on your business.

Further reading:

• Tips from John Lusk
• Tips from the Content Marketing Institute

Owned media

What is it?

Another option is setting up your own media property. This can either be a separate site, a section on your existing website or even a hosted section on a well-known publication. Owned media puts you in control.

Pros:

• It’s yours – Whatever topic you want to cover, you can. Quickly and easily. This can be the home for thought leadership stories, whitepapers, infographics, whatever you want.
• Build respect – By owning media you can create a place that is a ‘must visit’ for potential customers, partners and possible acquirers. This allows you to nurture the right niche audience for your content.

Cons:

• Time – Setting up, creating content and building a following for an owned media site takes time. Even after you have established it, the site will need regular updating. Don’t underestimate the time required.
• Trust – There is no secret recipe to becoming a trusted outlet. It is going to take time and hard work to become a “go to” source of content.

How to improve:

• Quality – To generate traffic, ensure that your publication hosts and produces top quality content. Insightful, well-written pieces will have people coming back for more. Too salesy, and your audience will switch off.
• Frequency – Owned media will need constant updating to stay fresh and relevant. This doesn’t mean just written pieces, but it can incorporate infographics and videos.
• Promote – Promoting it through social media and paid ads will boost people’s awareness of the site.

Further reading:

• Tips from Heidi Cohen
• Tips from Small Business Trends

Deciding which avenue to go down will depend on your business’ development stage and corporate goals. One or perhaps a combination of these types of media could be the solution. However, the key to success with all three is outstanding quality, well-written and relevant content. Becoming a thought leader is not just about having great insights, but also effectively communicating them to the right people.

For more insight into the difference between paid, owned and earned media then check out these blogs from Forrester and Cision.