Paid, earned and owned media

Recently I heard someone talk with great enthusiasm about the marketing buzzwords of paid, earned and owned media.

(Notice I haven’t mentioned earnt, which while commonly used, isn’t grammatically correct.)

Now back to my story: the other person in the conversation was clearly impressed with the terminology, which is a shame because the explanation being given was pretty inaccurate. If you’ve ever heard this term and didn’t fully understand it, this article is just for you. And it’s surprisingly self-explanatory.


If you’ll pardon a furniture analogy, in the context of media, these three areas represent the three legs of a table. Which in turn, props up and supports the top, this being the overall content, digital or marketing strategy.
So what exactly is paid, earned and owned media?

Paid media

Paid media is simply, anything that has an upfront cost. In digital marketing terms, this would include broad advertisement activities such as:

  • Pay-Per-Click (PPC)

  • commercial influencers

  • banner adverts

  • programmatic adverts

  • social amplified posts

  • paid content promotions

  • print /TV adverts

All of these fall under paid media activity. The examples, given above, form the outputs of a marketing strategy. You remain in complete control over the what, where, when and how.

Earned media

Again this is super straightforward - earned is any benefit you’ve received but not paid for.

This would cover:

  • anything content-related that is shared in an unprompted way

  • reposts or links to blog pages or created content

  • video comments on YouTube or Facebook

  • mentions via social

  • engagements – a smiley face on Facebook or reviews of products or services on Trustpilot, Glassdoor or Yelp.

  • word-of-mouth recommendation

Branded content and SEO optimisation help drive earned media, getting people to see and engage with what you've produced and hopefully share it.

The Content Marketing Institute states that content marketing is:

“A marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

This drive towards reciprocal altruism is what earned media is all about. It’s here that fans might push your content to be wildly popular and decide whether it goes viral or not".

This leaves us with our last table leg.

Owned media

This covers all directly owned outposts of any company, brand or service. Including:

  • website and mobile sites

  • apps

  • blog

  • social media channels

  • any retail or office space

  • offline collateral (magazines or brochures)

  • thought leadership articles via LinkedIn

Another three important elements are critical: quality, persuasiveness and relevance.

The overall effectiveness of owned media is what drives advocacy, retention (longer term) and repeat custom – it’s where fans and loyal customers are made or lost.

Any truly great business seeks to leverage each of the three table legs. However, if you focus too heavily on any one, you could be missing an opportunity to serve a greater potential audience.

Some businesses also suit a specific strategy mix of these three core media types. If we look at Tesla, it typically ignores paid, instead focusing heavily on earned media. This comes from the belief that for Tesla, existing customers are the best people to market its cars – cultivating the idea of fanism.

So next time you're at Ikea, quaffing down meatballs or hotdogs, remember there’s a marketing lesson in that three-legged coffee table.

Matt Edwards