Paid, Owned & Earned Media are Melding

converged_media_vennI grew up in the communications industry in the “paid” media world. In the 70s and 80s I worked on Madison Avenue (literally) at BBDO/New York prior to its move to Avenue of the Americas in 1986. Paid media was where it was at in the 70s and 80s–expensive TV commercials with multi-million dollar media budgets spent largely in network TV. “TV builds brands”, I was taught. I learned my lessons well. In that era, it was true. And no agency was better than BBDO at delivering the big TV message in that era. PR on the other hand was something other agencies did. My knowledge of PR was modest and my impression at the time was that those “PR folk” were largely calling press contacts pitching stories about their clients. Not much relevance to me, I thought. There were no websites, blogs, social media, e-marketing, or digital media of any kind. Cable TV was still pretty simple—some Turner networks, MTV, ESPN, HBO and some others. There was no discussion of media “convergence”. The worlds of paid media and “earned media” of PR (a term I didn’t learn until much later) were not at all converged. In fact, they were treated like separate universes, kind of church and state.

To say that the marketing world has changed minimizes the magnitude of change. In fact in my almost 40 years working in marketing, the changes we’ve experienced in the last 10 years are greater than the previous 30 years combined.

Today there are 3 media worlds which now overlap and are rapidly converging:

1. Paid media—The “traditional media”–TV, radio, print, out of home as well as paid digital ads too—banner ads, pay per click, etc.

2. Owned media—“You control the horizontal, you control the vertical”. In owned media the company controls the message—your website, blog, social media channels, newsletters, etc. all comprise this world

3. Earned media—This is the “old” PR of articles and stories. But added to this are the booming phenomena of having your content shared by others—brand mentions, retweets, YouTube views, comments, shares etc.


The smartest marketers understand that these 3 worlds are not separate but in fact seek to create communications that multiply the effectiveness of their efforts. Video that goes viral, posts that drive web traffic, leadership thoughts shared by others, etc. I read a smart summary of the convergence of these worlds recently written by Michael Brito of Edelman called Your Content Strategy: Defining Paid, Owned and Earned Media. Good stuff. He does an excellent job of defining the 3 worlds which are now melding. Social media is at the intersection of the three worlds.

Here’s a real world example: Brand X posts some important info about a new product development on its Facebook page (Owned media). Because of its importance, Brand X spends a few shekels and boosts the post to a wider audience (Paid media). This information is seen by this broader audience and then shared (Earned media). If you are working with communications agencies, which agency does this work? The creative agency, social agency, media agency, PR agency? Or is this done by the company itself? Confusing yes, but it’s a real world example of how it’s all coming together. The smartest marketers know that those products and services which can interestingly and smartly create content and messages that gain exposure in all ways, the more successful they’ll be. Dollar Shave Club is a great example of brilliant marketing and understanding of how to managed the converged media worlds.

So what will the future hold? Who knows? But my guess is that the circles will overlap even more. Some day they may become one.

More Strumings


  1. Kelly says:

    I agree these spaces are merging faster than most are willing or able to adjust. Modern media is no longer about placing things for people to see but finding ways to engage, entertain and motivate people to act (buy, share, recommend) across disciplines and channels. We can’t forget that this new world also requires insight (behavioral and emotional) to ensure the message is delivered in a way (and place) that is relevant and compelling. These charts often describe the behind the scenes process but fail to recognize how people outside of marketing see and experience the world. Marketers need to look beyond their myopic view point if they want to influence what is already happening naturally.

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