Back when I started my career (don’t ask!), I worked at what was called an integrated agency. One of the big internal discussions revolved around the never-ending debate of what marketing activities were considered public relations versus advertising. There was this huge gray area between the press release and the TV spot. It included everything from trade show booths and brochures to videos and customer events.

Today, both terms seem rather limiting, and there are too many tactics that don’t really fall neatly into either category. Instead, we find ourselves talking about earned, owned and paid media.  

Earned media is the result of media relations efforts, ad campaigns, events and any content you create and share through social channels that gets picked up, shared or run. It’s also the label we attach to anything your customers or other people who interact with your brand do or say publicly on a review site or social channel. This is also where word of mouth, referrals, etc. would be found.

Paid media is, as you might suspect, media coverage you pay for. It could be traditional ads on TV or radio or in print publications. It could also be ads you buy to run on the Web – banners or paid search, sponsorships, etc. If you can completely control the message, the placement and timing, even though you don’t own the advertising vehicle, it’s paid media.

Owned media are those outlets that a brand can create, own and control, like its corporate website, blog, e-newsletter, sales materials, etc. It would also include your Facebook page, Instagram videos and Twitter account. If you can build, change or completely destroy the channel, it’s owned media.

The tendency today is to think that earned media, especially social media, is the silver bullet that will end all marketing woes. But the reality is, you need all three and you need them to work together.

Keeping in mind that for most businesses, whether you sell a commodity item like toothpaste or a considered purchase like a car, the website is king. Whether you “sell” the ability to help a sick child through a donation or accounting services, the website is king. In most instances, your potential buyers, no matter what you sell, will do two-thirds of their buying decision making before they ever talk to you. They do their homework and their comparison shopping on the Web.


So your website must be:

Engaging – give me a sense of your brand’s personality.  Don’t pack the copy with jargon or use stiff “corporate-speak.” Talk to me in the same voice that you’d use if we were standing right next to each other.

Interactive – be sure I can talk to you and give me options. In some cases, that might be a chat function, customer service Twitter account or an email form. But don’t forget the basics like your phone number and a mailing address.

Connecting – give me lots of options to stay connected to you and your community of customers. For most businesses today, that would include a link to your Facebook page, Twitter account or maybe even a user-driven forum or help area.  

Helpful – don’t sell at me; help me. Make me smarter, show me how to use what you sell well, or guide me through the thought process of how and when to buy what you sell.  

Next week we’ll look at how to generate “converged media,” which is when two or all three of these types of media work together.  But it really does start with the website. 

Do that wrong and none of the media can truly do its job.