Marketing today has so many different guises that it’s impossible for professionals to live by one skill alone. 

Ten years ago there were clear divisions and defined roles and skillsets. PRs, writers, marketers, web developers and search marketers hardly spoke, let alone crossed into each other’s worlds.

The situation has changed dramatically since then and it’s time for the agency world to follow suit.

Throughout this period, the one common and defining factor has been access to and usage of the web. Although  the previously regimented world of marketing might see the web as a complex and unruly beast, others believe it has done the opposite, simplifying what should be a straightforward approach.

If the movement online has helped brands to communicate more openly and honestly with customers and communities, surely that is where the focus should have been in the first place? 

Truly understanding what people want and fulfilling that need must be a simpler path to success than telling customers your product is the best, and ignoring all feedback to the contrary to maintain some imagined brand reputation.

So how can we evolve to meet the needs of the modern consumer and, therefore, the modern brand? One thing is clear, this change won’t come about through one discipline ‘owning the sector’. 

We’ve endured the ownership debate that demands one discipline must lead because of issues that are no longer relevant. The reality that I see is joined-up thinking, simplification and focus on what is most important. 

The idea of earned media, owned media and paid media is by no means new, but it does go some way to achieving a more simplified and encompassing approach to what is relevant for marketing. 

Forrester defines Earned Media as "a message about a company passed between consumers as a result of an experience with the brand". It defines Paid Media as "a  message delivered from a company to a consumer by paying to leverage a channel not controlled by the company".

These are definitions that resonate with my experiences of the sector. We should not be focused on channels and disciplines, but conversations and experiences. 

Earned media encompasses everything that doesn’t require a payment to deliver a message such as videos, comments, pictures, stories, conversations, feedback and ratings. Paid media includes advertising, TV, web, paid search and deals, and owned media would be the brand’s website, microsites and so on. 

Paid, Earned and Owned Media by Gavin Llewellyn

This means that to succeed in earned media, we must develop adaptive brand communications and experiences that get messages to consumers on their own terms, by being useful, engaging and by earning trust.  

This is an important differentiation, especially in relation to the web, which aside from Google search ads, is an earned medium. This is how networks work.

In old money, an earned media approach is realised through four main tactical disciplines of PR, Social Media (marketing), Content and SEO. However, focusing on the outcomes of these disciplines is the way forward, not the disciplines themselves.

We do this by delivering combined services that will meet the market shift and favour powerful brand communications that embrace the complexity and fullest potential of the web, focusing on speed, data, community and direct conversations.

Looking at the evidence, CMOs are looking for people to make it all work together. They don’t care what the disciplines are called, they just want to tell brand stories and find out how all non-paid digital can help them achieve their goals. 

This type of thinking is also fuelling a market correction, with money moving from paid media into earned and owned.  There’s a new focus on how paid media can support earned and owned, as well as questions around whether paid media, such as targeted ads, work as well as was previously believed.

Earlier this year, Coca-Cola’s CMO and CEO both stated that 20% of their marketing budget will go elsewhere, specifically citing inbound marketing and social media. Procter & Gamble, the world's largest marketer with a $10bn annual ad budget, has also established it will spend more on social media, content and SEO... P&G was also responsible for that (excellent) Old Spice campaign by the way.

It’s pretty clear that brands are already unwilling to pay five agencies to do five roles that one should really be able to accomplish. Is it too much to ask that brand communicators should be able to establish emotional connections with customers, without the client needing to worry about where each level of service implementation comes from?

The truth is we as consumers absorb media quickly, and expect our services, brands and conversations to be cross-discipline very quickly, so why shouldn’t we expect the same of our agencies?

The agency that succeeds will be the winner, it won’t be search or social or PR or even advertising. It’s more likely to be Earned Media or Earned Media-led, and that makes the future so much more interesting.

Lloyd Gofton

Published 28 June, 2012 by Lloyd Gofton

Lloyd Gofton is Director at Liberate Media and a contributor to Econsultancy.

1 more post from this author

You might be interested in

Comments (7)

Save or Cancel
Albie Attias

Albie Attias, Ecommerce Director at King of Servers Ltd

Sound advice Lloyd. As a client, I'd much prefer dealing with a single agency capable of delivering a gamut of services but my agency experience suggests that a truly joined up approach to delivery is still often touted yet rarely practised.

about 6 years ago

Lloyd Gofton

Lloyd Gofton, Director at Liberate Media

Hi Albie, thanks for the feedback.

I agree that many agencies won't be able to deliver on a combined earned media approach as yet.

However, there is a small but growing number of competent agencies that can not only provide integrated services, but strongly believe it is the only way that the industry will succeed and are therefore committed to an earned media approach.

about 6 years ago


Monty Munford

Nice piece, Lloyd, I couldn't agree more...

about 6 years ago

Lloyd Gofton

Lloyd Gofton, Director at Liberate Media

Thanks Monty, much appreciated.

about 6 years ago


Steve Sponder

Hi Lloyd, completely agree in principle however for this approach to be really effective the industry needs to have a standard definition of 'Earned Media'.

Some agencies and individuals are true to the Dan Goodall and Forrester definition of earned media; WOM, buzz, viral, basically when people become the media, passing the brands message and content on to others.

The other definition of earned media appears to be related to PR activity. Forrester recognised this when they say 'Earned media is an old PR term that essentially meant getting your brand into free media rather than having to pay for it through advertising. However the term has evolved into the transparent and permanent word-of-mouth that is being created through social media.'

about 6 years ago


Dave Harper

I think you're spot on Lloyd. We believe that the currency in this market lies in stories and storytelling. Not necessarily about brands but relevant to brands values and attributes so consumers will embrace and share the content.
My company, Hoodlum does this but to your point about single agencies having the ability, I agree. We've strategically partnered with specialist groups to execute brilliant ideas in this area.
I think creative collaboration is key to delivering content audiences want and will embrace whilst also delivering on brand objectives.

about 6 years ago

Lloyd Gofton

Lloyd Gofton, Director at Liberate Media

Hi Steve

You raise a good point in relation to defining Earned Media. I agree that there needs to be an agreed definition to move the industry forward.

However, I'm also aware that lack of agreement can sometimes be used as an excuse not to act.

Hopefully the article goes some way to defining my thoughts on the subject in terms of encompassing the Forrester definition of Earned Media as: "a message about a company passed between consumers as a result of an experience with the brand".

The word 'experience' here is key for me, and this could be generated by any number of non-paid means.

about 6 years ago

Save or Cancel

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Digital Pulse newsletter. You will receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.