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A Brief Overview: Owned, Earned, and Paid Media

Date published: March 17, 2021
Last updated: March 17, 2021

If you’re new to the marketing industry, you may have heard a few terms that you don’t know, like owned, earned, and paid media. The good news is that these terms are quite straightforward. 

We’ll use this article to walk you through these three forms of media by providing definitions and briefly explaining how they work together to form a well-rounded digital marketing strategy

What is owned media?

Owned media is the collection of all the resources you own: website, blog, YouTube channel, social media accounts, etc. Because you own or control the content on these platforms, you have complete control over how your brand is presented. 

However, because you create all of the content, you need the resources, time, and tools to be able to do so. And if you really want your brand to stand out, the content needs to be high-quality and curated for each platform.

Also, for newer companies, it will take awhile for their content and platforms to gain traction with consumers.

For example, a blog run by a 6-month-old startup company won't see as many readers as an already established resource that has been on the Web for years, even if the content that is published there is objectively better.

It takes months, and sometimes years, of consistent publishing, effective marketing and PR to grow a steady community. You also have to position yourself amongst your competitors in a way that differentiates you from them in a significant way.


  • Complete freedom over the content created and published
  • Independence from outside factors like pages being moved or removed completely
  • Free to use (outside of hosting fees)


  • Platforms and social media accounts take a long time to develop
  • The amount of resources spent towards differentiating yourself from your competitors, especially if your market is highly saturated.


What is earned media?

Earned media is the collection of all your mentions, comments, word of mouth recommendations, reviews, and links. High rankings in Google are also considered earned media.

This kind of digital PR can help you gain more traction faster when you’re just starting out. For example, a guest posting campaign can get your content in front of many more eyes than if you only posted on your freshly-built website.

The value of word of mouth recommendations and reviews is immense, especially as more shopping is done online now. A single recommendation by a satisfied customer can potentially bring you thousands of dollars in revenue.

Earned media is sort of a first-stage rocket that can help you get off the ground. Once you’re in the air, the need for it gradually declines until you can maintain marketing flight with your owned media channels. 

This analogy especially applies to Google rankings. The closer you are to the top three results, the better business will be going for you. 

The downside to earned media is that you have limited control over it. For example, you may write the guest post, but other people have the right to edit and publish them on their own terms. They might even remove your piece completely due to various reasons.

And while you can definitely influence your SEO, even with perfect optimization it is still difficult to rank in the top three spots. The competition is optimizing their stuff just as much as you are!

When it comes to reviews and recommendations, the only thing you can do to increase their number and positivity is to provide perfect service. But, there will always be people that are not satisfied, even if you do everything by the book.


  • Earned media can help you get yourself in front of your target audience quickly.
  • It helps drive traffic to your own media channels.
  • Reviews and recommendations are essential for good PR and driving sales.


  • Limited control over the content distributed
  • Dependency on outside factors and even the risk of getting your content removed entirely

What is paid media?

Paid media is all of the publicity you purchase. This includes sponsorships, PPC, advertisements, and so on. And while it certainly has its uses, like climbing higher on Google's search results, there is one huge downside: it is expensive.

If your budget is big enough to include paid media into your marketing strategy, then there is no reason why you shouldn’t use it. But your first and foremost focus should be on your own media channels, as both other types will lead users to your site.

And since that might be the only chance to give visitors a reason to stay, it is imperative that you have something really good to offer them.


  • Quick and effective exposure
  • Almost complete control over how your brand is presented.


  • Expensive
  • Only works as long as you are paying

Which form is more powerful?

The short answer is none. The long answer is that in marketing, things aren’t really this black and white. 

A healthy marketing and public relations strategy makes use of all three channels. Depending on the stage of your company, owned, earned, and paid media will provide completely different kinds of value.

No single channel has more “power” over the other. Instead, they all work in combination to help you achieve the same end goal.

When you’re just starting out, earned and paid media will help you gain the much-needed traction until your own channels are developed enough to support your business goals.

This doesn’t mean that when that happens the other two channels will become useless, but their value will gradually diminish.

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