Understanding the power of owned and earned media in an ‘opt-in’ world

Child superhero portrait

I don’t know about you but these days I seem to be getting ‘buffeted’ from all angles by people trying to sell me stuff. And it’s getting worse – the more communications channels that spring up, the louder the hype and the noisier everything becomes.

I see these unwanted sales pitches for what they are – intrusions into my life – and rarely, maybe ‘once in a blue moon’ if it’s relevant for me at the time do I take any notice, let alone act upon the pitch in question.

And I’m not just talking about businesses here. Nonprofits aren’t bad at ‘the pitch’ either, especially the ones that hire people to accost you on the street, or ring you randomly at 6 pm on a weeknight when you’re getting ready for dinner. And of course, we face a constant barrage of self-centred messaging from politicians at all levels as they negotiate (without success) the unrelenting 24-hour news cycle.

I know I’m not alone in my thinking here.

But here’s the thing: We now live in an ‘opt-in’ world.

That is, we – the general public – are increasingly shunning the hype and instead choosing to ‘opt in’ to those brands and individuals that are relevant to our lives in some way, that deliver value over and above their products and services, that tap into our core beliefs and interests and thus resonate more deeply on an emotional level. And if they display some semblance of personality and humanity, hallelujah!

The savvy (personal and business) brands that ‘get’ this shift in consumer behaviour – that not only understand the mood of the marketplace but can keep up with it from an executional perspective – are the ones that increasingly will win hearts and minds of the people.

Hello? Zappos anyone?

Goulet Pens? Buffer? @Problogger? Content Marketing Institute? Australian Writers’ Centre? American Express? SouthWest Air? Patagonia? King Arthur Flour? Whole Foods Market? Firebrand Talent? Red Bull? HubSpot?  Mayo ClinicSimplyBusiness.co.uk? Nextview Ventures? Lady Gaga? SoulCycle? GoPro? Envato? Visage Mobile? Percolate? charity: water? Deloitte? Convince & Convert? Gary Vaynerchuk? Influence & Co? SmartPak Equine? Sprouts Farmers’ Markets? Greenspring Wealth? Jeni’s Splendid Ice-Cream? Big Ass Fans? Dionne ‘The Social Executive’ Lew? Compete Every Day? Johnny Cupcakes?  Queensland Police Service? TopRank Online Marketing? Bellroy? TrinityP3?

But there is hope! 

Get your ‘communications house’ in order and make an effort to build a solid base for your brand using owned and earned media first, and then strategically start adding the more interruptive marketing layers such as advertising. Don’t do it the other way around – that’s yesterday’s modus operandi and out of sync with today’s more discerning connected consumer.


FINAL_marketingpyramidLAYER #1 – OWNED MEDIA

Become your own media channel! Own and (and add value to) your own digital real estate with multimedia content that’s useful, helpful, relevant and informative for your audience;  establish a blog (or content hub), produce YouTube videos or SoundCloud audio snippets (to embed on your website); publish whitepapers or downloadable PDF ebooks, tell your customers’ stories, take people behind the scenes of your business using Instagram and Vine.

Owned media gives you the best opportunity to grow and engage your own audience directly; while you will at times need to publish content on third-party platforms (e.g. Twitter, YouTube, Instagram etc), you still own and control the content you put out there, which is awesome as you can ensure your brand has a consistent presence, plus it gives people – your friends, allies and customers – something to share with their networks.


Grow your reach and influence! Traditionally earned media has been domain of PR professionals and often centred around building relationships with journalists, presenters and broadcast producers; however, today the net of influencers has widened exponentially and includes bloggers, podcasters, YouTubers etc. But let’s think about this for a moment – today with social media, everyone is a potential influencer for your brand – positively or negatively!

Earned media is all about earning the right for others to write about you, talk about you, source quotes from you, get you on as a guest for a broadcast interview … all the way down to people on social media sharing your content with, and giving you a recommendation to, their own personal and professional networks.

In my experience many brands only get excited about earned media when they’ve got something to spruik, when they’re about to embark on a campaign to launch a new product; but to be effective, you can’t wait for it to happen by chance within the confines of a ‘campaign’ – it must be earned over the long haul. You need to show up and be an integral part of the community, you need to deliver value – you need to give people a reason to talk about you!

To unlock the true value of earned media, it needs to be planned strategically and executed efficiently over a period of time; importantly today, it works in close tandem with a brand’s owned media efforts.

vw adTruth be told, earned media as a concept has been with us forever. One of the most famous campaigns in the history of advertising was Volkswagen’s Think Small, which was written and produced by the ad agency DDB back in 1959. This campaign was lauded by the industry as a massive success – and it was, by all reports – but it’s important to scratch beneath the surface a bit. As marketing authors Laura Ries and Al Ries note in their 2004 book The Fall of Advertising & the Rise of PR, Volkswagen arrived in the US in 1949 and over the next decade generated positive stories in the media; by 1959 Volkswagen was a success, having sold 120,000+ vehicles representing 20 per cent of the US imported car market.

So as powerful as DDB’s advertising was, notes Ries and Ries, it still needed the credibility created by the editorial exposure (earned media).

In other words, earned media – particularly when run in tandem with a significant owned media presence – can have a huge impact on a brand’s visibility, credibility and influence in the marketplace; together, more often than not, owned + earned media will ‘set the stage’ and help make the advertising work harder and more effectively.


Bring your communications to life with collaborations and partnerships with like-minded brands; get face-to-face with the people who matter most to the success of your business, cause or issue – run events, involve customers and influencers, harness the real-time power of social media, record proceedings on video and publish to your blog!

Done right, this element of the communications pyramid – or what I like to call ‘experiential media’ – allows you to humanise your brand to a greater extent than some of the other elements mentioned, get closer to and engage with your community, as well as give you additional fodder for your social channels.


Okay, so now you probably get where I’m coming from i.e. it’s better to ‘own’ your audience (acknowledging they can walk away at any time!) – get them to opt in to your brand versus merely renting someone else’s audience and then interrupting them with your sales message. THINK: Putting an advertisement in a magazine (‘renting’ someone else’s audience) versus creating your own online publication and encouraging people to subscribe to it (‘owning’ the audience).

Now, I’m not saying don’t pitch your brand or advertise products and services – that would be silly, there is still a need for that, we live in a hyper-commercial after all! But if that’s all you do – if that’s where the weight of your marketing efforts go – I am saying it’s going to become less and less a cost-effective option in the future. It’s damn hard to do well now because people are adept at turning a blind eye to sales pitches, but it’s going to get increasingly more difficult to do efficiently as we all start to drown in the world’s content tsunami.


This is the toughest gig of all these days – especially if you’re approaching ‘prospective customers’ cold through phone or email, with no semblance of a relationship being cultivated in advance of the initial contact. Put too much focus on taking a direct approach – and you’d be surprised how many companies and nonprofits do! – and you’re in for a rough ride.

However, build your owned and earned media base first – create relevance, connection and resonance with your audience – and then at least there may be some openness on the part of the ‘target’ (recipient of your approach).

My advice?

Front-load your marketing communications effort with a strategic approach to owned and earned media; tackle it with enthusiasm and purpose as an ongoing long-term program of activity – not a campaign! – and then build everything else around that.

This will help your brand become more relevant and in-sync with today’s savvy ‘connected consumer’; you will be giving people the opportunity to opt in to your resources and community, rather than bash them over the head and add needlessly to the ‘wall of noise’ they confront every day.

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

1 thought on “Understanding the power of owned and earned media in an ‘opt-in’ world”

  1. Pingback: How To Make An Owned and Earned Media Approach Sing Sweetly

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Welcome to the frontline of the communications revolution!

G'day, my name's Trevor Young. Subscribe to the PR Warrior blog today and receive regular updates from me on all things PR, social media, content marketing and thought leader branding.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This

Share This

Share this post with your friends!

Scroll to Top