Paid vs. Earned Media: What’s the Difference?

When promoting a product, service or brand, both paid and earned media tactics are needed to get the word out. But here’s the thing. Do people really understand the difference between these two strategies? From our experience as a public relations agency in Phoenix, the answer is: usually not.

Earned media
Earned media, as the name suggests, is exposure earned through third parties endorsing your brand or product in the form of press mentions, positive online reviews and social shares. In a nutshell, earned media is online word of mouth, that in a perfect world spreads (virally!) through social media at lightning speed. If you’re a consumer of social media, guess what? Your mentions, shares and retweets are all part of the earned media machine. You’ve helped spread the word!

If you aren’t on social (give us a call – we’d love to help with that!), don’t fret yet. The best and most effective way for a company to get boatloads of earned media is focusing on search engine optimization (SEO) (we can help with that too, by the way). If you show up on the first page of a Google search, your chance of engaging a consumer skyrockets.

Beyond social and SEO, there’s one key thing to remember: with earned media, you have to have a good hook. Why should someone care about your content? More importantly, why would they want to share it with their friends? If it’s not worthy of a Buzzfeed headline, you might want to rethink your strategy.

Benefits of earned media

  1. It costs zero dollars, but it requires thoughtful, strategic effort.
  2. Earned media is the most trusted and credible form of content for a brand.
  3. It amplifies awareness of a brand and expands reach well beyond their current consumer base.
  4. Third party endorsements inevitably put your brand in front of new potential customers. The ROI is undeniable, although difficult to quantify to a penny.

Paid Media
As the name implies, paid media is paid promotional content – aka advertising. Paid media generally comes in the form of advertorials, paid influencers (#spon), social media advertising and paid content promotions, although in the ever-changing world of online marketing there could be a new paid option tomorrow.

As with earned media, paid media is used by a company to increase overall brand awareness. What’s different, though, is that paid media allows you to control your message. And since you’re paying, it’s guaranteed to be covered.

One of the more recent (and compelling) forms of paid media is Influencer Marketing. Utilizing Influencers – seriously, it’s a thing – to share your content on their social platforms with their loyal followers, should be a key area of focus for any marketing plan. Influencers with big followings are great and all, but engagement is what matters most when selecting an Influencer. If followers are engaged with an Influencer’s content, they’re more likely to take an interest in what’s being said about your company.

We’ve found that companies who utilize Influencer Marketing almost always see increased positive exposure among those viewers, and that can lead to significant ROI.

Benefits of paid media:

  1. You control the narrative. Paid media is never NOT complimentary towards your brand. (#doublenegative)
  2. You can target a particular audience segment through social media boosts and sponsored content.
  3. Paid media offers tangible ROI that earned media often cannot.

The Takeaway
Marketing isn’t easy. Being an public relations agency in Phoenix, we know that first hand. And while we’re not doing brain surgery, it can be daunting to navigate the limitless options at our marketing disposal.

While both paid and earned tactics are very different, they’re more similar than you’d think. And often, they go hand in hand. If you want your content to go viral, it often needs a push. We can’t all be Tesla.

Tyler Rathjen

Tyler is a Partner at Decibel Blue. He sits on the board of the Phoenix Suns 88 Charities as Executive Committee chairperson (or “Big Gorilla) and is also an active member of the Key Executive Forum for PR Boutiques International, a global collaborative network of public relations agencies. Tyler is passionate about supporting education-related causes since his wife, Victoria, has been a public school teacher for many years. He earned his bachelor’s degree in marketing from Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business.

An Iowa native, Tyler has a son and two daughters who more than keep him on his toes. He cheers passionately for his Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Chicago Cubs, where he realized a lifelong dream by attending Game 3 of the 2016 World Series (FINALLY!).

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