Paid vs. Earned Media

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With the ever-evolving media landscape, sometimes it can be difficult for brands to differentiate between where one form of media stops and another starts, and which is most valuable. Despite their differences, both earned and paid media are valuable tools that can be used to drive brand awareness—in fact, as many a PR pro will tell you, it’s usually a combination of the two that will yield the most significant results. Having the ability to communicate the differences between paid and earned media can help PR pros bridge the communication gap with clients, and avoid the oh-so-dreaded, “So what do you actually do?” question.

So what are those differences?

Paid: Paid media is a good way to gain initial exposure with consumers that are unfamiliar with your brand. As the name suggests, this encompasses all paid opportunities that drive traffic to your channels—think traditional advertisements like commercials, display ads and pay per click (PPC), as well as new-school mediums like influencer partnerships, Facebook advertisements and promoted Tweets. Because paid media statistics can be easily tracked across different platforms, the ROI is easily measurable, making its value clear-cut.  

Earned: By contrast, earned media is content that travels through the web organically via retweets, shares, likes and mentions—almost like a modern-day version of “word of mouth.” It can be a challenge to measure the value of earned media since it’s usually cost-free, so value is often gauged by estimating impressions. Although there is much less control over the content and nature of earned media, it’s for this reason that it generally feels more authentic to consumers.

Implementing an earned media strategy might seem less effective than paid media on a surface level, but when 88 percent of consumers say direct advertisements have little or no influence on their purchasing decisions (Forrester), earned media can become one of the most useful facets in a brand’s marketing and communications plan. Despite this obvious shift in consumer trust from paid to earned media, some brands still tend to value paid media more, overlooking earned media as an indispensable tool in brand awareness—which is why having strategic guidance from your PR team can be so important!