What is meant by owned, earned and paid media?

All the content relating to a brand – including articles, videos, blog posts and content of any other type – can be categorised as one of three media types: ownedearned or paid.

Owned media is content produced for the brand and published on one of its own platforms, such as a branded app or YouTube channel. The article you are currently reading is an example of Target Internet’s owned media. 

Earned media is content relating to a brand, published by a third party in the normal course of their work. Common examples include when brand reps provide commentary for newspaper articles, news reports covering a brand’s activities, references to a brand on third-party webpages, and user-generated content (UGC) uploaded by customers to social media.

Paid media is content relating to a brand, published by a third party in exchange for a fee. Common examples include online video ads and magazine advertorials.

What is the owned, earned and paid media framework?

The owned, earned and paid media framework is a way of representing the three media types and how they relate to each other.

The framework was publicly defined in 2009, by Daniel Goodall, a Marketing Manager at Nokia (now Director of Brand Management at Fiskars Group). Nokia marketers had created and started using the framework in 2008.  

In a short post published on his personal blog, Goodall explains how Nokia had been using the framework for its digital media planning. In Nokia’s model, the framework was made up of three overlapping types of online space where digital media could exist:

  • Owned spaces;
  • Earned spaces; and
  • Bought spaces.

When represented as a diagram, the three types of space are shown as overlapping in the centre, which highlights their interrelatedness.

Goodall described this framework as “a simple model that has been useful in our digital planning.”

The owned, earned and bought media framework has gained popularity among content marketers over the last decade, and is acknowledged by key authorities including ForbesHubSpot and Adweek.

Not much about the framework has changed since 2009, although most marketers now use the term “owned, earned and paid media”, and some apply it to traditional media as well as digital.

How to use the owned, earned and paid media framework

The owned, earned and paid media framework can help with several aspects of content strategy, from planning campaigns to calculating ROI.  

To tap into these uses, you will first need to break down your current or planned content marketing activities into owned, earned and paid.

Here’s a blank diagram you can use to do this:

(Click to download printable A4 pdf)

List your content marketing activities somewhere separate, then add each one to the most relevant circle on the diagram.

This completed diagram can be used in lots of ways to help with formulating, evaluating and optimising content strategy:

Content campaign planning

Mapping your content marketing activities onto an owned, earned and paid media framework diagram is a great way to ensure there’s a good balance between the three media types in your campaigns.

This is important, as using a mix of owned, earned and paid media tends to be the ideal content marketing approach for most brands.

A survey from the Institute of Practitioners of Advertising (IPA) found “Brands that use paid media grow three times faster than those that just rely on earned and owned.”

This came with the caveat that “owned media typically increases the effectiveness of a paid campaign by 13% and earned media by 26%”. In other words, the best results seem to come when the different media types are used together.

Having the owned, earned and paid media framework on the drawing board when you start planning a content campaign will help make sure these three complementary parts of the picture are all accounted for.

Mapping the relationships between owned, earned and paid media

A key reason why the mix of owned, earned and paid media tends to deliver the best results is that the three media types can fuel one another’s success.

Sometimes this effect is deliberate and direct. A common example of this is the use of paid media as top-of-funnel (ToFu) content – for instance, where a sponsored blog post (paid media) introducing a topic encourages readers to sign up to an email newsletter (owned media) covering the same subject in more detail. 

In other cases, the benefit of one media type to another can be less direct. For example, increasing the amount of third-party ‘earned media’ articles that discuss a brand and link back to its website would typically improve the search visibility of the ‘owned media’ articles on the brand’s blog.

Whether directly or indirectly, the relationship between different types of media can create value for the brand and its content. As content marketers, it’s in our interest to maximise the value added. To do this, we need to identify how our media types play into each other. Make a list of examples where one of the following statements is true of your content:

  • Paid media benefits owned media
  • Paid media benefits earned media
  • Owned media benefits paid media
  • Owned media benefits earned media
  • Earned media benefits owned media
  • Earned media benefits paid media

You could enter your answers into a table, like so:

  Benefit 1 Benefit 2
Benefit of paid to owned Guest post on third-party site uses a backlink to build direct traffic and search visibility for brand’s own blog. YouTube ads increase brand awareness and traffic to brand’s own YouTube channel.
Benefit of paid to earned Product pages boosted by paid search increase the chance of journalists writing about brand’s products in online reviews. Online/traditional billboard advert gets discussed on a local radio show.
Benefit of owned to earned High quality blog article attracts references and backlinks from other online publishers. High quality podcast episode gets mentioned on another brand’s podcast, leading to a bump in listenership.
Benefit of owned to paid Demonstrable quality of brand’s owned media means more advertising partners are willing to provide a platform for the brand. Content of a brand’s landing page will determine relevancy scores on PPC platforms, which can positively or negatively affect visibility.
Benefit of earned to owned Third-party publication posts a hero story about the brand’s outstanding video content, e.g. a memorable ad. A user review of the brand’s podcast on a third-party platform encourages other users to listen to the podcast.
Benefit of earned to paid Positive online customer reviews enable a review feature to be added to brand’s paid search ads, which increases their click-through rate. News coverage of the brand increases public interest and brand recognition, which increases the click-through rate of online display ads.

If you can think of more than just two benefits for each relationship, great – add more columns.

The most immediate benefit of this exercise is that it provides evidence to show to stakeholders of how the three media types of the owned, earned and paid model support each other’s success in a content marketing plan. This can be crucial for securing buy-in for all three activities, at a time when budget can be hard to come by, especially for paid media.

We can also use a table like the one above as a framework for planning how the three content types will support each other in a new content campaign. Use SMART goal-setting to set objectives for how each content type will benefit the others, then move these goals into your workflow.

Content marketing ROI comparison

The interplay between owned, earned and paid media is an important factor when calculating ROI for a certain media type.

First off, measure the overall ROI of your content marketing campaigns. How much do you spend on producing content and distributing it to readers, how many sales leads are generated in return, and what’s the average business value of these leads? For guidance on how to measure return-on-investment, see our article on ROI, Attribution Modelling and Google Multi-Channel Funnels.

Within your content spend, you will have separate costs relating to owned, earned and paid media, e.g.:

Owned Earned Paid
· Content production · Content production · Content production
· Web hosting and other platform costs · PR/Outreach · Advertising partner fees
  · Press release distribution · Content promotion costs (e.g. for Google Ads and Facebook sponsored posts)
  · Media hospitality spend  

Setting out the costs of each type of media can be a good way of identifying excess spend in one area. However, this should not be done with the objective of achieving equal spend across owned, earned and paid media. Every brand, campaign and situation will be best served by a certain ratio of the three, which you can gradually work to identify by assessing how increases or decreases in spend on each media type correlate with overall ROI.

A decent approximation of ROI for each media type can be found by considering the direct return attributable to the media type in question (e.g. leads and sales generated by that type of content), alongside the measurable, targeted benefit that media type gives to the other media types (see previous section on the transfer of benefit between owned, earned and paid media). The sum of direct return and indirect benefit gives the truest practicable measure of ROI for each type of media.

How to accommodate owned, earned and paid media in a content marketing team

Owned, earned and paid media are all centred around the production of compelling content that fits its purpose.

However, there are specialist skills, resources and areas of knowledge required for success with each media type. For example:

  • Success with owned media could require high skill levels in content strategy, longform content production, and content management system (CMS) design, development and management.
  • Success with earned media could require an extensive database of journalist/media contacts, appropriate press release distribution systems/software, and a good knowledge of current best practice in the field of outreach.
  • Success with paid media could require good relationships with stakeholders at advertising partners, negotiating skills and knowledge of media buying best practices.

The differences in skill requirements between owned, earned and paid media mean you’ll often find siloed teams for each of the three areas at content marketing agencies and larger in-house marketing departments. 

Separating owned, earned and paid media teams in this way makes some degree of sense, given the differences in day-to-day work and capabilities involved. However, a completely siloed approach is not the answer.

As we have seen, owned, earned and paid media can add value to each other in lots of different ways. How the three departments work together will be critical to maximising the benefit. 

A good way to keep owned, earned and paid teams singing from the same hymn sheet is to brief team leaders in each department on your overall content strategy. In some cases, the main objective of a department’s upcoming work will be to add value for another department, and this should be made explicit in the goals you set.

You might also consider having selected stakeholders from owned, earned and paid media work together on a project-by-project basis. Discussion and collaboration between members of the three teams can help ensure consistent messaging and tone-of-voice throughout a brand’s content. 

Owned, earned and paid content: the perfect mix?

In this article, we’ve discussed how all branded content can be split down into owned, paid and earned media. We’ve covered how these three media types can fuel each other’s success, and how they can be used together as a framework for content planning and evaluation.

With all that said, it is worth noting that some brands just aren’t compatible with certain media types. For example, the performance of owned media may be limited by customer expectations of their relationship with the brand; or, the effectiveness of paid media may be limited by how receptive a brand’s customer base is to advertising in general.

Owned, earned and paid media is the perfect content marketing mix for many businesses, but not for all. We advise continually measuring your brand’s performance across all three, to make sure you are investing in the right areas.