Leveraging Paid, Earned, Shared, and Owned Media: A How-To

It's no longer enough for your brand to master owned, paid, earned, and shared media. Today's marketing strategies call for synergy among these four channels.

You don’t want your business to produce great output without getting the recognition and revenue you deserve. That’s why we’ve compiled a guide to the PESO model, which subdivides your media into four types:

  • Paid Media - the product of a targeted advertising buy.
  • Earned Media - coverage that your business receives through traditional media outlets.
  • Share Media - in which your business partners with social media networks.
  • Owned Media - the proprietary content that your business publishes and distributes itself.

Not only must you understand how to optimize these communication channels, but you must also unify these channels and devise a strategy in which the whole is far greater than its four parts. We’ll explain how after we take a closer look at these individual channels.

Paid Media: Time (and Pixels) Is Money

Exchanging money for time and space is a decidedly old-school approach to marketing. It continues to this day, of course, in the pages of our publications and the 30- and 60-second intervals of our TV and radio, but paid media has since grown to include other opportunities as well. Today’s paid media also encompasses stealthier selections such as sponsored content and paid social media, as well as more mainline options such as pay-per-click ads.

Of the four forms of media exposure, paid media can draw the most apprehension from businesses. Decision-makers often expect to see short-term returns on their sizable investments—returns that even the most effective buys can’t always turn around in time. There’s also a feeling of concession that comes with resorting to paid media. After all, with all the good that owned media can do, why should businesses have to farm it out? However, blitzing the market with instant exposure still cannot help but be effective, especially compared with the plans that accompany owned and earned media strategies. Even if you don’t have the time or the resources to erect a cathedral, you can still put up quite a few modest chapels.

Indeed, effective paid media is all about scale. The notion of “spending one’s way out of trouble” is a derisive one, but it’s a necessity in this sphere. Because paid media is inherently a low-trust form of communication—your audience knows the score when it comes to paid advertisements—you need to overcome that low trust in sheer volume alone. Big media buys can overcome the lower conversion rates of paid media and still provide a much-needed infusion of interest while you draw up the plans for that cathedral: earned media, the highest-trust channel of them all.

Earned Media: The Dollars and Sense of Accomplishment

To illustrate the distinct value of earned media, let’s briefly step away from the gauzy, white-collar world of marketing and communications and get down to something real, something tangible. Let’s, for the sake of the point, talk about chairs. Between discount ecommerce outlets and brick-and-mortar showrooms, you have no dearth of options from which to purchase a place to sit. But what if, for the purposes of finally filling that corner of the family room, you made an off-the-board choice? Instead, you roll up your sleeves and either lovingly rehabilitate an old piece of furniture into a brand-new piece or even build one altogether. The satisfaction of having created something unique and proprietary for your own home is a special feeling. Anyone can buy a chair. By sanding, staining, and reupholstering it yourself, you’ve earned this one.

Earned media is just as special to your brand as your upcycled reading chair is to your home because it carries legitimacy and uniqueness that money can’t buy. Paid media can be effective—there’s no doubt about that. However, cultivating relationships with media outlets, influencers, and even your customers themselves pays off because it’s not purely transactional. Your audience can’t help but respect the imprimatur of legitimate press coverage or enthusiastic recommendations, and that makes earned media matter. Every hoary cliché you’ve heard about word-of-mouth being the best form of advertising is, like most clichés, true at heart. Genuine personal endorsements of your business bring in solid and recurring customers that no ad blitz can guarantee—it’s just a matter of getting that hard-earned endorsement through time and talent.

Once you earn this coverage, it’s not enough to rest on your laurels. After all, if there’s a downside to earned media, it’s that there’s no ROI to point to, no guarantee that you’ll get the kind words and new leads you’re after—you are at the mercy of the media and the market here. Take a moment to bask in your earned media, and then start thinking about what’s next. When you receive high-quality earned media, you should capitalize on it by further boosting those signals. Use your own website to highlight positive publicity and spread the good word. Leverage social media outlets to propagate these stories. Let your market know what you’ve accomplished. This dovetails with the fourth channel: the mercurial but compelling world of shared media.

Owned Media: Marketing’s Home Game

Of the four channels, only one has no confounding variable, extenuating circumstance, or other condition. The success of paid media is contingent upon the talents of your marketing partners and the reach of the outlets they secure on your behalf. Shared media often relies upon algorithms beyond our comprehension. Earned media is contingent upon recognition from media outlets—and that falls outside your control. Your owned media is where you control your destiny. The in-house channel of your marketing plan includes blog posts, infographics, long reads, podcasts, and other forms of content that live comfortably under the aegis of your own website. Because you have the final say over not only the editorial content but also its publication, you can curate your marketing strategy however you like.

This doesn’t come without responsibility. The difference between merely having owned media and leveraging your owned media comes down to quality and intent. A desultory content strategy that simply churns out content for content’s sake serves only to squander the channel you control the most. To make the most of the media that lives in your own backyard, you’ll need an extensive strategy. Start by facing down that million-dollar question of digital marketing: am I writing for search engines, or am I writing for human beings? The answer: yes. Great owned media squares this circle and delivers high-quality content with built-in search engine optimization, seamlessly integrating keywords and queries into compelling and informative essays and charts. Strike a balance between seasonal and evergreen content—after all, this is your site, and useful resources can live there for as long as you need them to.

In-house management of in-house media should be possible for many businesses. Of course, not every enterprise boasts a full-service communications department that’s up to the task. Partnering with an outside digital marketing agency whose analysts and creative professionals are experienced in crafting high-minded yet Google-friendly strategies may be what it takes to truly optimize your owned media. As we talk about such partnerships, however, that brings us to the second of your four channels: paid media.

Shared Media: There’s a Lot To Like

Being active on the socials isn’t just for civilians anymore—and hasn’t been for a long time. Shared media is simply another name for the wide constellation of social media networks across the internet: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and TikTok, just to name a few. Of course, each different network has its own character, from the button-down world of LinkedIn to the wildly unpredictable Twitter to the art project writ large that is Instagram. If there’s a surefire way not to master shared media, it’s to steamroll all your networks with a single, one-size-fits-all persona. Virtually as realistically, one must read the room. Know when to deploy your facts and figures and when to tell a story.

Shared media has important commonalities with owned and earned media. As with owned media, you are relying on your proprietary content to speak to your market—you’re simply entrusting the networks and their algorithms to help spread it beyond your own site. Much like earned media, the high trust you set out to gain with your use of shared media comes with the hidden price of a long-term plan with no guaranteed results. There’s an important difference from owned media, however: whereas one of the perks of warehousing content on your own site is that it can stay there forever, shared media is very much of the moment. Leveraging shared media means mastering the ephemeral nature of these platforms, which send waves upon waves of content to the world. Time those waves just right to make the most of your shared media use.

Synthesizing the Four

Public relations professionals are swift to coin a phrase. And why not? It’s part of the job. They’ve devised an acronym for combining and overlapping the once-discrete models of media. Enter what Brandpoint and others refer to as the PESO model. It’s not a matter of choosing one channel over another anymore. You need to have all four and make them work together. Here are some instances of how these channels synergize on your behalf:

  • Earned and shared: Think influencers. Social-media superstars who endorse your product will take the hard-earned victories of earned media and spread them across the socials, combining that high trust with the high exposure of shared media.
  • Paid and owned: Digital marketing agencies can leverage their publishing partnerships to bring traffic to owned media. What appears to be a newspaper article or blog post may actually be cleverly disguised native advertising, where a deftly placed backlink converts readers to your site and increases your site’s domain authority.
  • Owned and earned: Here’s the windup…and the pitch. Reporters are looking for stories. Don’t wait for them to come to you. With a strong base of proprietary content, you can use this to your advantage and give media outlets something to report on.
  • Paid and earned: Those beloved influencers need a nudge sometimes. When you can’t win these social media personas over organically, part of your ad spend might be to simulate earned media and reap those benefits. As with all paid media, savvy consumers can spot #sponcon a mile away, but these paid promotional opportunities can be successful, nevertheless.

Simply “building it” and hoping people will come is not enough any longer—if it ever were. Build it, optimize your media channels, and only then do your customers start coming. And don’t just pick one—indeed, leveraging paid, earned, shared, and owned media is a primary concern for businesses, with all four types of media seemingly tied for first—and the PESO synthesis, like the Chief Justice, ranking first among equals. So go forth: leverage these channels, optimize your media, and happily reap the benefits.