Paid, Owned, and Earned Media: What’s the Difference?

Graphic conceptualizing marketing strategies and different types of media Prior to developing strategic marketing for any business or organization, there are several things to consider. When our agency is working with new clients, we identify their target audiences, their specific business goals, and the marketing resources available to them. Taking these factors into account is crucial for determining what types of media are possible and will be most effective for the client. The solutions and plans will look different for each, but ultimately, every company is working with three primary categories in their marketing efforts: paid, owned, and earned media. Let’s unpack these and explain the differences.

What Is Paid Media?  

As its name implies, paid media are the things you pay to place in front of an audience. By making this financial investment, your business is looking for increased exposure, sales, or traffic in return. Some examples of paid media are: 

What Is Owned Media?  

Owned media, on the other hand, are all the things your company or marketing team creates, produces, or designs. This encompasses a wide range of content, but any marketing materials your business makes are considered owned media. These assets are unique to you and therefore help extend your brand’s presence and longevity in physical and digital spaces alike. Some examples of owned media are: 

It’s also worth noting that if you hire a marketing agency, design firm, photographer, freelance writer, or any other kind of creative professional, the assets they produce usually fall under your owned media, because you paid them to make it for your company. Be sure to read the contract they provide before agreeing to hire them, and ask questions upfront about content rights and ownership. 

What Is Earned Media? 

Last but certainly not least, earned media relate to any sort of publicity and brand exposure that isn’t paid for. This type of marketing exists outside of your paid content and owned content. Some examples of earned media are:  

  • Recommendations or reviews that patrons leave of your business (hopefully, they’re positive!) 
  • Any sort of press coverage  
  • Any public speaking events you/representatives of your company speak at 
  • Any podcasts and other interviews you/representatives of your company participate in
  • Social media engagement and exposure through other users (again: not paid for) 

Paid, Owned, and Earned Media in Your Marketing 

Now that we’ve covered the differences between paid, owned, and earned media, let’s talk about how they integrate into your marketing. While each type serves its own purpose, ideally, any business’ marketing plan involves a mix of all three approaches. Whatever the ratios of that mixture are really depends on the company’s unique situation and the levels at which their three primary resources—money, time, and expertise/skills—are available. 

For example, a small business or a startup might not have a large marketing budget, so they likely won’t lean on paid media options as much. However, they might have enough time on their hands to create their own graphics for social media content in Canva, or someone on their team may already have the skills to write blogs for the website. In the case of this hypothetical business, the balance between paid, owned, and earned media weighs heavily in favor of owned media—things they can make themselves—while paid and earned media are smaller portions of the pie, but not necessarily nonexistent.  

Do you need help redesigning your marketing playbook to make better use of your resources and be more effective overall? We can help with that. As a full-service marketing agency, we offer marketing planning, consulting, and a whole suite of other services. Contact us today to get started. 

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About the author : Dominique Goyette-Connerty

Dominique Goyette-Connerty is a Marketing Specialist at Vision Advertising. With a background in journalism and marketing communications, she brings her strong writing skills, social media experience, and passion for public relations to the Vision team and clients. When the workday is done, you can find Dominique at the kickboxing studio, kayaking on the lake, reading, and cuddling with her two adorable kittens.

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