PR 101: The Difference Between Paid, Owned and Earned Media

In the marketing world, there are three primary ways to attract new customers: paid, earned, and owned media. In this post, I’ll explain the difference between the three, how to measure the ROI for each, and how to take advantage of them to ensure your brand gets the coverage it deserves.

Paid media

Paid media is the stuff you pay for to drive traffic to your website or to your stores, such as TV ads, radio spots, and print advertising. The internet has opened up lots of other opportunities too, such as Pay Per Click (PPC) ads, where advertisers bid on keywords, and the ads are then displayed above organic search results. As the name suggests, you pay every time someone clicks on an ad and is directed to your website.

Another paid option is retargeting, where customers who have bounced off your site without making a purchase are presented with your ads elsewhere on the internet.

How to measure ROI

Paid media is the easiest form of marketing to track, as advertising platforms usually come with their own analytics software. Google Analytics, for example, allows you to filter data by organic, referral, and paid traffic; and will show you how your AdWords are performing. There are also lots of third-party options that allow you to track your performance across any number of advertising platforms.

Owned media

Owned media is the content you’re in full control of. It’s your company website, blog, white papers, newsletter, and social media accounts. It can take on a variety of forms, but the primary goal of this content is to provide value to potential customers as they move down the sales funnel.

With your owned media, you need to avoid being overly promotional. Instead, focus on providing educational content and building credibility. The quality, persuasiveness, and relevance of your owned media assets will determine whether journalists engage with you as a business and cover your stories.

The strength of these owned media experiences will also determine whether your customers will become fans.

How to measure the ROI

The best way to measure the ROI of owned media is to provide calls-to-action in your content. What do you want people to do after they’ve read, listened to, or watched your content? You can measure the ROI by looking at how many views your blog posts/videos/social media posts get, how many visitors go to your website, how many comments and shares you get on your social media channels, etc. These things can be easily tracked in platform-owned tools like Google or Facebook Analytics.

Earned media

Earned media is the free publicity generated by the media and your fans. It’s when your innovative new product launch, clever online video, or fascinating white paper is good enough for a journalist to take notice of your company and write about you, or for fans to rave about it.

Earned media can take the form of coverage in the press, Retweets, Facebook Likes, YouTube comments, shares, and online reviews. Earned media is valuable, as third-party endorsements are more credible than any others.

Unlike paid or owned media, you can’t control earned media. But you can encourage coverage and sharing with high quality content and interesting stories.

How to measure ROI

Because its independent of your own content, earned media is best tracked using brand monitoring tools. These are tools that scan the internet and social media platforms for mentions of your brand name. By excluding mentions resulting directly from your own efforts, you can measure your brand influence.

Another way of measuring earned media is to look at things like backlinks to your content. By nature, backlinks are easy to track. An added benefit is that it boosts your SEO too.

Blend your media like a pro

When you combine owned, earned, and paid media, you get a much wider reach than using one approach alone.

Each media channel has specific benefits and can drive different results. Paid media creates ‘brand awareness’ and allows you to gather valuable marketing data, owned media builds and supports the ‘brand experience’, while earned media boosts the ‘brand conversation’.

Providing you create engaging, customer-oriented, and problem-solving content through your owned media, support it with paid efforts, and engage the right people to achieve earned media, you’ll soon start reaping the benefits.

If you want to find out how you can leverage these three powerful strategies for your business, get in touch.



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