Paid vs. Earned Media: what’s more important for your marketing strategy?

With the proliferation of social media platforms over the last decade, the idea of “earned media” as an essential marketing tool has risen; but, the question of whether it’s more valuable than traditional paid media isn’t always easy to answer for many brands. While the idea of earned media is appealing from a financial standpoint (social media is free!), does it really drive new business? For that matter, while paid media messages can be controlled by brand, has the decline in consumer attitudes toward ads made them less relevant? Unfortunately, there’s no stock answer as to which type of media is more valuable for every brand—but there are some important points to consider when building your marketing campaigns around both of these types of media.

Earned vs. Paid Media

First of all—what are paid and earned media? The terms are commonly defined as:

Paid – When you pay to have something distributed for you. This includes advertisements, paying for media coverage, rewarding fans or followers who share your content with monetary thank-yous, or distributing press releases on paid sites, for example.

Earned – When someone distributes your content on your behalf, it’s considered to be “earned” media. This includes social sharing, using social bookmarking sites like Reddit, re-blogging, as well as being featured in publications (without having to pay for the coverage, of course).

At a first glance, these seem like pretty clear descriptions of two different types of media. Unfortunately, it’s not usually that cut and dry. For example, think of all the big marketing campaigns that have gone viral over the last few years. Mostly likely, the vehicle for sharing those campaigns were social shares, which are considered earned media; but, if you think about how much the company paid their social teams to distribute the campaigns, or their digital agencies to develop the campaign in the first place, it’s not as easy to classify the campaign as entirely “earned.”

Blurring the lines between paid and earned media

According to Mashable, “Earned media is more important than it ever was. It’s not just a PR strategy anymore. Now it’s a marketing strategy that informs the way ads and other forms of a brand’s communication are structured.” Mashable goes on to say that, “Yet making something go viral, of course, has its own challenges. […] Doing such outreach, of course, costs money, once again blurring the lines between earned and paid media.”

For marketers today, there’s no firm line in the sand where paid media ends and earned media takes over. Most campaigns are a blend of the two and both are crucial for the success of the campaign.  At the end of the day, however your media is generated, it wil, in some way bear a cost to a brand.

Creating Hybrid Campaigns to Drive Awareness

We stand behind that idea that both paid and earned media are a crucial part of any team’s marketing strategy. Find what mix of earned and paid media works for you by focusing on your campaign’s goals. Are you looking to simply drive brand or product awareness? Are you looking to drive tangible sales results? Each goal may take a slightly different combination of media, but finding the right mix will result in you successfully reaching your marketing targets.

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