A refresher for anyone who has heard this phrase and either forgot the difference between them or who never knew the difference in the first place.

That includes myself and also a colleague who leaned over to me last week and said “you know what you should write a beginner’s guide to? Paid, earned and owned media.”

So unlike when I DJ at friends' weddings and Bar Mitzvahs, I happily took his request and obliged.

Here’s a quick guide to paid, earned and owned media…

Paid media

Quite simply, it’s all the advertising you pay for. This includes amongst other things:

  • Print ads
  • TV ads
  • Display ads
  • Paid search
  • Promoted posts on Facebook
  • Sponsored tweets

Basically anything that you’ve paid for in order to drive traffic to your ‘owned media’ properties. The audience for paid media is generally made up of strangers to brand and its services.  

Owned media

All the cool properties that belong to your brand which you control:

  • Your website
  • Mobile site
  • Retail stores (online and offline)
  • Blogs
  • Social media channels
  • Apps
  • Magazines
  • Brochures

It’s down to the strength (quality, persuasiveness, relevance) of these properties to determine whether the strangers driven to your owned media by paid media will become customers.

The strength of these owned media experiences will also determine whether your customers will then become fans of yours. Fans drive ‘earned media’.

Earned media

It’s the free publicity generated by your fans. You didn’t pay for it, because you earned it… Good work! Either your hilarious online video, your superior ecommerce experience or your constantly engaging Twitter account has been good enough for someone to create a positive piece of content for you or share your original content further. This can include:

  • Retweets
  • Facebook Likes
  • YouTube comments
  • Shares
  • Revines
  • Bloggers writing about your product
  • Online reviews
  • Word of mouth

If a video ad that you paid to make is shared by someone on social media this ‘sharing’ is still called earned media.

Unlike paid or owned media, you can’t really control the above examples (no matter how hard you wish to try). It’s in the hands of your ‘fans’. However earned media is how your brand may become wildly popular, so if you trust your own brand and products than you should trust in earned media.

Does SEO fit into one of the three categories?

A good SEO strategy should be part of the creation of your online ‘owned media’ properties. SEO can help your site rank higher in organic search listings, therefore driving more searchers to your website.

Likewise, if more and more people are sharing your brilliant content and it’s being featured all around the web in an earned capacity, than this is brilliant for your brand and practically doing your SEO’s job for it in driving traffic to your site.

SEO rests in the space between owned and earned if you don’t mind a slightly less than definitive answer. Does it really matter though? Probably not, the results are after all the same.

This is just a very simple guide and it’s by no means definitive nor should you assume that everything happens in a straight line: Paid->Owned->Earned. Sometimes paid can lead straight to earned. A Facebook comment (earned) can be the first time someone hears about a company and that drives them straight to a website (owned) cutting out paid altogether.

Further reading for beginners...

During my first year at Econsultancy I’ve been making a point of writing beginner’s guides to any new terms or phrases I find particularly baffling, or that I might suspect other people may find baffling too. 

The following related articles should help clear up a few things:

Our Festival of Marketing event in November is a two day celebration of the modern marketing industry, featuring speakers from brands including LEGO, Tesco, Barclays, FT.com and more.

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 8 October, 2014 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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Comments (6)

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Rufus Bazley, Marketing Director at Dynamis Ltd

I find these terms fairly useless to be honest, you pay for all media (wages etc.) you own all of them (I own the print ads I had made) and you earn all responses, sales and enquires from the hard work your team puts in.

I believed when these terms first started being used and still do today they are purely marketing speak.


almost 4 years ago

Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff, Editor at Methods Unsound / Search Engine Watch

@Rufus - that's an entirely fair comment and valid. That doesn't stop marketers using them though, and the purpose of articles such as this is to help the novice untangle the jargon when presented with it. It's their own choice whether they then choose to shudder at every mention of it in the future. ;)

almost 4 years ago


Brogan Savage

Thanks for this - good to have clarification as this term often gets bandied about.

Just wanted to possible flag a typo:

"Unlike paid or earned media, you can’t really control the above examples (no matter how hard you wish to try)"

Do you mean "unlike paid or owned media..."?

Cheers :D

almost 4 years ago

Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff, Editor at Methods Unsound / Search Engine Watch

@Brogan - Cheers! Yeah you're right. All fixed.

almost 4 years ago


Amir Hussain Khadim, Senior Officer Direct Marketing at Qatar Airways

You missed the biggest star of the marketing arsenal: Email Marketing. Some call it owned, I call it earned.

almost 4 years ago


Victoria van Wyk, Digital Marketing at Student

The terms Paid, Owned and Earned Media (POEM) has been bandied about since about 2011 and and the concept of POEM as a tri factor to successful content marketing is as valid today as it ever was. Thank you for a concise post explaining the differences.

7 months ago

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