by George F. Snell III
May 12th, 2014

Can we stop pretending there are media categories called earned, owned and paid?

They are ALL paid. And they always have been.

Earned media

Earned media is pitching stories and concepts to existing publishers and having them write about your company, product or service. The idea was to tell publishers – be they reporters or producers – a compelling and interesting story and they would want to write or produce a piece about your brand.

It still works this way, in theory, but in an environment where PR consultants now outnumber journalists more than 3 to 1, the pickings are slim.

And pitching news stories is costly. Most brands hired PR agencies to help them break through the noise. That always costs money. Now, however, publishers are struggling mightily. They have entered into native advertising – a polite way of referring to paid content – in a big way.

Brands now have all kinds of opportunity for paid partnerships and sponsored content with publishers. Call it “paid earned” if you like. And the best way to enter into this paid partnerships with publishers is produce content – worthy content. Content that speaks more to consumers than it does to brand messaging.

Owned media

Owned media is a brand’s own publishing channels – websites, email newsletters, social media and blogs. It’s the content the brand creates – be it articles, infographics or videos – that it then self-publishes directly to its fans, followers and customers.

This is also a paid category. It cost lots of money to create digital content, especially the type of content people want to share and comment on. It costs money to build, maintain and manage digital properties like websites, microsites, Facebook pages, mobile applications and Twitter pages.

Now, however, social channels are requiring that brands pay for distribution. Facebook is the tip of this “paid owned” spear. Most brands are now getting about 2% fan penetration on organic content on Facebook. In other words, when a brand posts content only about 2% of their fans see it in their News Feeds.

Two out of every 100 people seeing your content is a lousy number. But Facebook now has many paid distribution options to get that content in front of more fans (and even friends of fans).

Paid media

Paid media remains paid media, but with distinct differences. Paid used to mean advertising.

Not anymore.

In fact, paid advertising has been losing its impact for years. People tune out advertising. The paid options that show real traction and interest are “paid distribution.” Using a piece of brand content – designed specifically for a target audience – and then paying to distribute it directly to them.

The effectiveness of “paid distribution” vs. advertising is that brands don’t pay for impressions – a vague way of kind of saying that someone saw your ad – they pay for an action: a view, a click or a read.

If you have a cool brand video why would you pay for an impression? The goal is to get people to watch it. That’s what paid distribution is all about: opening up your content to new, but targeted audiences.

Be it earned, owned or paid – ALL media is paid. To be a success, brands need to strategically design programmes that tap into the paid aspects of all media.

Because if you aren’t, you aren’t doing media right.

George F. Snell III is senior vice-president, digital & social communications, at Weber Shandwick Boston.

This article first appeared on Snell’s blog High Talk

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