By: Danielle Alfaro
Account Manager, Coldwater Communications

There are many tools and tactics you can use to increase your company’s brand awareness and earn credibility with your consumers. No matter the size of your business or whether it is B2C or B2B, the options are plentiful, including paid ad-buys, influencer marketing, organic editorial content, blogs, thought leadership articles and traditional news features. But understanding the difference between these is essential to achieving your PR and marketing goals, as not all of them will yield the same results.

Understanding the difference between earned, owned and paid media

Earned media

The goal of an earned media strategy is to gain third-party validation from media outlets to ultimately help increase awareness of your company and enhance its credibility. Earned media coverage can come through traditional media pick-up such as newspaper articles, magazine features and radio and television interviews. It also includes online media such as podcast and YouTube interviews, blog articles and content shared on social media.

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer 2021, traditional media is still one of the most trusted sources for information in Canada. Unlike owned or paid media, earned media coverage is at the mercy of the news outlets. Ultimately they are in control of their content and what will be published, despite any information provided to them by a PR agency.

Typically, earned media strategies are carried out by PR agencies or professionals who have established relationships with the media. These are mutually beneficial, as media often rely on PR agencies for newsworthy content. Agencies can also help showcase the type of content being published (negative vs. positive etc.) based on the relationships they have with various outlets. Choosing a credible PR agency or publicist is key to obtaining earned coverage for your company or initiative, as they work closely with editors, journalists and reporters, understand current media trends and how to navigate the media landscape.

Paid media

According to Gartner, 2021, “Paid media refers to external marketing efforts that involve a paid placement, such as pay-per-click advertising, branded content and display ads.” Paid media collateral can include thought leadership articles, company blog posts, television and print ads, social media ads through influencer outreach, and more. Businesses often deploy paid media tactics for a variety of reasons including PR-related objectives such as brand awareness, but also marketing focused initiatives such as lead-generation for sales targets. Unlike earned media, paid media content is controlled by the company.

Paid advertisements can sometimes be more costly than working with an agency to generate earned media coverage, depending on the outcomes of a paid vs. earned media campaign. Paid media articles in newspapers and magazines can start at roughly five thousand dollars or more each. And thousands more for a single television interview or feature on an online blog or podcast. Your budget is a major factor to consider when choosing the type of campaign for your business. Although paid media initiatives can help increase brand awareness, this option is often selected by marketing departments for sales-driven lead-generation purposes. In most cases the focus is on trying to sway the consumer’s interest with a paid ad that can be directly traced back to a dollar amount spent. This is unlike earned media success, which is measured on the quality, reach and amount of media coverage received and isn’t always tied to the company’s bottom line.   

Owned media

Owned or “controlled” media is exactly what it sounds like. It is content created and thus owned by you (the brand) including the messaging, design, placement and timing of the content. Owned media can be curated in the form of company blog posts, social media, website copy, announcements, videos and white papers. Unlike earned media, but similar to paid media, owned media content is managed and controlled by the brand, ensuring that a consistent narrative is disseminated across the brand’s platforms of choice, which usually include web pages, video platforms and social media channels. Although mostly outward facing, owned media content can be shared as an internal resource to boost employee engagement, professional development and knowledge. Additionally, owned media assets including videos, images and bios can play an important part in earned media campaigns in order to give media outlets additional background information on the company, product, service or spokesperson.

Not all results are created equal

In order to deliver high performing campaigns, a PR agency spends a vast amount of time, effort and expertise in developing and executing a comprehensive earned media plan. However, earned media initiatives should be considered more of a marathon and not a sprint, and results may vary with each campaign. PR agencies often work with clients on a project-by-project basis or monthly retainer to ensure maximum results. The more the company shares newsworthy stories with the media on a consistent basis, the more recognition, awareness and validation it will gain from its target audience(s). Companies looking for instant results and/or outcomes that can be traced back to an allotted budget, paid media may be the better option. Furthermore, curating owned media assets should also be considered as part of your company’s controlled content and branding. 


Both earned, owned and paid media strategies and tactics will yield results, however it is wise to do your research or seek professional counsel before selecting the best fit for your business. Ultimately,  the power of earned media for the strategic goal of increasing your brand’s awareness and reputation should not be underestimated, as it lends trusted third-party credibility and validation that today’s society seeks when deciding what brands or organizations they want to align themselves with, what products to purchase, and what causes to support.

Coldwater Communications is a PR agency that provides refreshingly unique public relations solutions to tell your story. We’d love to continue the conversation and help you develop a strategy that will move the needle for your business, event, initiative or brand. Contact us to learn more about our services and how we can help!