Monday Mornings with Madison

Converged Media: A Mix of Owned, Earned and Paid

It used to be so much simpler to market a company 25 years ago.  That was before a computer programmer in Switzerland named Tim Berners-Lee introduced the World Wide Web in 1991. In the days before the Internet, search engines and smart phones, marketing consisted primarily of campaigns to targeted audiences using a controlled number of channels and a controlled message.  Practically all marketing efforts were paid for and directed by the company.  That’s not to say that getting the message across or selling a customer on a product or service was easier.  It wasn’t.  But for companies trying to communicate a message to a customer, the approach was simpler and more direct.  There was less messaging ‘noise’ to distract and confuse audiences.

Today, we are overwhelmed by sales and marketing messages coming at us from every direction.  To be heard, companies must use a variety of approaches and a multitude of channels.  This includes Paid Media, Owned Media and Earned Media efforts.  Today’s marketing efforts must converge these to create a mixed approach.  Each is a different way for potential clients or customers to learn about a business’ message.   Each functions differently.  And each has its pros and cons.  In order to reach a target audience, a company has to understand and determine the right mix of its owned, earned and paid media efforts.  Let’s look at how they work.

Paid, Owned and Earned Media:  What’s the Difference?

Paid Media

This is the type of media that everyone knows and understands:  it’s the marketing companies must buy.  Paid media initiatives typically seek to either create brand awareness or acquire new customer.  As the name implies, this exposure costs money.  If there is a direct charge from an outside source to get the message across, it is Paid Media.

Channels include:

  • Television ads
  • Radio commercials
  • Print ads (newspapers and magazines)
  • Direct mail (circulars, flyers, postcards)
  • Display (signs, billboards, buses, bus benches, etc.)
  • Display/Banner ads (online newspapers, digital trade publications, business websites)
  • Paid search (ads at the top or side bar of search results for a particular term or phrase on a search engine)
  • Sponsorships
  • Advertorial (paid articles)


  • Scales quickly. When a company has a message it wants seen en masse immediately, paid media is the right approach.
  • High degree of control.  The company has a lot of control over the creative, content and marketing message.  Within the parameters of what is allowed by a given channel, the company has the freedom to craft the exact message it wants communicated.


  • Expensive.  It used to be said that it took 10 impressions for a company’s message to penetrate a consumer’s consciousness.  That was before the advent of the Internet, hundreds of cable TV channels, Sirius XM radio offering hundreds of radio stations, and the proliferation of thousands of online media outlets, etc.  For a company to ‘buy’ its way into the collective consciousness can be pricey indeed.  According to Ad Age, marketers are expected to spend 540 billion dollars globally on Paid Media in 2015, an increase of 2.4% over 2014. Cha Ching!
  • Noise pollution.  Consumers often ignore pure “brand messages” since they are already inundated daily with advertising messages. Thousands of brands with a marketing message and a significant budget are fighting for each consumer’s attention.

Owned Media

Owned media are those channels which the company owns and controls.  Depending on the size of a company, a business might have a variety of owned media channels. These include:

  • Website
  • Campaign microsites
  • Corporate blogs
  • Social media fan pages:  Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn
  • YouTube corporate videos
  • Company newsletters
  • eNewsletters
  • eBlasts
  • Content syndication (ie, Slideshare or Slidesnack PPT presentation)


  • Top-of-mind.  This targets the brand’s existing community and/or current customers to reinforce the relationship.
  • More affordable.  It is typically less costly to execute owned media than paid media.
  • Total control.   The company has total control over the creative, content and marketing message of the channels it owns.
  • Crisis communications.  Once Owned Media channels are mature, the company is able to get messages to key audiences in the event of crisis very easily.


  • Slower.  Owned media is a long-term approach to marketing as it requires a lot of time and planning to create content, build a thriving community and develop the customer conversation.  Once developed, it is a reliable option to reach a select audience.
  • Cost.  Unlike what many think, Owned Media is not “free.”  It costs money to develop customer support teams and escalation models.

Earned Media

Earned media is the natural byproduct of marketing efforts, ad campaigns, events and content created and disseminated by the company. When anyone not associated with a brand mentions it on Twitter, Facebook or any other social media channel, or in their own marketing efforts, it’s earned media. It is the exposure a company gets from those outside the company.  It is when a company’s reputation takes on a life of its own.  Hence the term “earned.”  This includes:

  • Word-of-mouth
  • Twitter tweets and Facebook likes
  • Reposted messages by consumers on social media
  • Third-party endorsements
  • Influencer Blogs, eBlasts, and eNewsletters
  • Client testimonials
  • Content published voluntarily by outside sources (press releases, articles, public service announcements)
  • Customer product/service reviews (Yelp, Angie’s List, Consumer Reports, Trip Advisor, Better Business Bureau, etc.)
  • Forum discussions about the brand


  • Negligible cost.  Earned media is either free or incurs very little expense.  But often it is the byproduct of either Paid Media or Owned Media efforts, which do incur expense.
  • Trusted.  Earned Media is highly valued by consumers as trustworthy.  That is the real charm of Earned Media.  A message from a trusted source about a brand has exponentially higher value and influence than all of the messaging a brand can disseminate about itself.


  • Unpredictable.  Earned Media messaging is, by definition, not within the company’s control.  A review can be good or bad.  While a glowing review from a respected source can be invaluable, a lukewarm or devastating review from a trusted source can hurt even more.  That’s because cynical consumers are more apt to believe that a bad review is legitimate than a glowing one, especially given the revelation of all the scam reviews being reported on product/service review sites in recent years.

Converged Media

So which approach is best?  Should a company focus its marketing efforts most on one media approach or one channel over another?  When it comes to marketing, there is no one-size-fits-all.  In general, corporate marketing should be a mix of paid, earned and owned, with the degree adjusted according to the company’s budget, industry, audience and abilities.  None of the three approaches should be ignored completely.  And none should dominate completely either.  A balanced, integrated mix is best.  That is called converged media, the trifecta of marketing.  Converged media utilizes multiple channels of paid, earned, and owned media to deliver messaging to both existing and potential customers.  When done well, the brand message has a consistent storyline, look, and feel. All channels work in concert, allowing brands to reach customers exactly where, how, and when they want.  As a consumer’s media experiences becomes increasingly complex between devices, channels, and approaches, and new forms of technology only making it more so, using a mix of paid, owned and earned ensures that the marketing is impervious to noise disruptions.

Quote of the Week

“The world is being re-shaped by the convergence of social, mobile, cloud, big data, community and other powerful forces. The combination of these technologies unlocks an incredible opportunity to connect everything together in a new way and is dramatically transforming the way we live and work.” Marc Benioff


© 2015, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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