Earned Vs. Paid Media

July 12, 2023

Many people in the marketing and communications world have heard the acronym PESO (paid, earned, shared/social, owned) to talk about the different types of media out there in the world today. For this particular article, we are going to talk about the first two since they are so very often viewed as interchangeable by people both inside and out of the industry, resulting in lots of frustration and miscommunication around results.

While they work well together, paid and earned media are still separate entities. Many online news outlets, in order to bolster revenue, have been incorporating paid media outside of the traditional banner ads -- sponsored content, native advertising and/or advertorials -- on to their sites, making it difficult for readers to tell the difference between what was written by their staff and what was paid for and placed by a sponsor. In some cases, contributed articles can be viewed as paid media but that has started causing a backlash by editorial teams who want to ensure that their readers are getting expert opinions on timely topics, not just a self-serving corporate message.

Earned media centers around your traditional articles, Q&As and profile pieces, written by a journalist from their perspective after speaking with a variety of sources and experts. Unlike paid media, where you know when, where and what will be published, earned media is at the discretion of the journalist and his/her editor. Unless there are factual inaccuracies, stories are rarely adjusted. This is why is it "earned" media -- it is critical for your communications team to build the relationships with reporters and clearly understand what the story is about.

If it is a proactive pitch to a reporter, collecting all of the pieces of your ideal story in advance -- spokespeople, messages, data, external sources, etc. -- is vital. But even then, journalists have their own sources and views on various topics so their written words may not be exactly what you and your team were envisioning.

They could be worse -- or they could be even better. This is the gamble you take with earned media. If you aren't willing to take the risk, you and your team might be better off focusing resources on the other pieces of PESO.

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