Skip to main content


Zapporah Turner

Published on

April 28, 2021


digital marketing, PR, public relations

In life, we often hear that “all good things come in threes.” Believe it or not, this silly saying happens to hold true even in digital marketing.

While at first they may just seem like buzzwords that are thrown around to flex knowledge, I’ve found that the foundation to a digital marketing strategy’s success requires a comprehensive understanding of the differences between paid, owned and earned media to determine how to best leverage each media type.

Wall with advertisements and posters

Related: Where Does Public Relations Fit In Your Marketing Plan?

Show Me the Money! (Paid)

Paid media is probably what you think of when someone talks about marketing or advertising. Paid media is representative of traditional media and paid advertising, which often looks like a typical paid ad from social media ads, display ads, television commercials, and other forms of paid content promotion. Additionally, anything that falls under the pay-per-click model is considered paid media. The goal of using this type of media is to make an initial investment and, in return, receive visitors to your website or campaign.

While much of the paid content that we are privy to is considered “traditional,” a recent trend in paid advertising to consider is influencer marketing. Influencers have the potential to affect the quantifiable habits and behaviours of your target audience by using product placement or endorsement strategies to feature your brand. While this approach is definitely considered a part of the “new school” curriculum of digital marketing, influencer marketing is a powerful tool that can be used to reach otherwise unreachable audiences.

It’s safe to say, the impact of your double-tap Kim Kardashian’s promoted posts on Instagram goes far beyond the screen.

It’s Mine! (Owned)

Owned media is the best thing that you probably don’t realise is sitting in your back pocket. It is simply media that is already owned by the brand. Social media channels, websites, apps, blogs, and even the online presence that comes along with all of those things are all considered your brand’s owned media channels. These digital properties constitute owned media because they belong to the brand and are used to help identify the brand for who they are.

It may be hard to understand how things that are seemingly fundamental to a brand have value. However, leveraging opportunities to capitalise on the owned content your brand already has is a great unpaid step to take in order to expand your digital footprint.

You’ve Got To Earn It. (Earned)

Earned media is arguably the most difficult to get ahold of because, well, you have to earn it. Digital forms of earned media are retweets, likes, press coverage, shares, reposts, or reviews. The reason that these forms of media are considered earned is that they all come from audiences who are willing to give it. In other words, an audience is starting the conversation around your product for you.

I’m not going to lie — this one is tough. It becomes the question of how to make a brand visible to an audience that will then talk enough to drive the traffic back to you. The tactics to earn your earned media are different for every brand. For some, this may look like executives attending and speaking at industry events to get your brand name out there or applying to relevant industry awards for recognition. For others, it may be constructing a moment-in-time stunt or event that starts chatter on social media. Though, for many, it lies in having a strong brand and brand awareness to begin with. Remember when I said this one was tough?

Earned media stems from efforts in both paid and owned media and will, in turn, increase visibility and reach across your digital marketing channels. It is a process that takes a while to understand and often requires expert guidance in competitor research and search engine optimisation to ensure your brand is looking for results where they are most likely to find them.

Ready To Jump In?

Okay, so you now know what sets these three apart. Now what?

With digital marketing, you’ve got to know that these things are not mutually exclusive. All three are necessary to a well-integrated and comprehensive public relations and marketing strategy. What works for one brand is not necessarily going to work for yours. Understanding your unique audience and what types of media they want to see is essential to your team’s success. When you begin to consider your options to expand your digital marketing strategy, remember:

  1. Don’t be afraid to tap into the “new school” ideologies to increase brand awareness.
  2. A digital marketing strategy is not one-size-fits-all.
  3. Results take time and require combined efforts in paid, owned, and earned media.

Once you’ve recognised the above, and you’ve tapped information from your target audience, you’re ready to jump right in.

Need help understanding how your team can benefit from experts in public relations and digital marketing? Reach out to our media experts to learn more.

Do get in touch