As strategists and executives continue to hone their media usage from a largely paid media use, to an increasing spread of earned and owned media, what can marketers do to optimize their media spread in the paid, earned and owned spaces?

Already, we can see from published figures from analysts, as well as some projections, that paid media use is declining, against the earned and owned media slices. Marketers are beginning to tighten the spending on paid media, which even against the economic downturn, is not necessarily getting more affordable. It is not because paid media is getting less useful, but sometimes, simply because marketers are facing increasing budgetary pressures, against ever-escalating performance indicators their bosses demand.

Therefore, as marketers, what do we do to optimize what we can afford to spend, in the 3 slices of paid, earned and owned media?

First, let us define what paid, earned and owned media are in our marketing context.

Owned media are what we can control, especially if completely. Owned media can be our website, microsites for specific campaigns, mobile sites (or simply websites with “responsive” designs), blogs, and to a lesser extend, some social content on third-party sites that we manage. Owned media can be cost-effective, and we can extend the reach of the content as long as we like, with specific content for specific readers. The flip side of owned media is that it is a biased medium, and consumers will take time to trust such a medium. Owned media also demands much more from a company, as technical and human capital need to be invested, and not sporadically, but for the long haul. There is also no certainty to the acceptance and reach to such content.

Paid media, in the simplest form, is advertising. Paid media can be advertising in print, in broadcast, online, and outdoors. It can be advertising spent in search channels. Paid media is also sponsorships which involve monetary investments. Paid media is understood to be biased, since it is media we place as marketers for our companies. The media also faces pressure from similar and competing campaigns in the same media space, and consumers increasingly experience fatigue to traditional paid media, and sometimes simply “switch off”. Paid media offers marketers direct communication in a controllable timeframe in terms of execution, and can have call-to-action mechanisms.

Earned media is traditionally what public relations (PR) practitioners specialize in, gaining editorial coverage in the media for clients. Earned media, increasingly, also include any “word-of-mouth” and viral communication by customers, advocates, the media, or the public. Earned media is especially seen in social media and online video channels. Earned media is seen as more credible, since it is said and communicated by third parties, whether by the media, or by the public. The flip side is that we as marketers cannot manage the end results, and the mention can sometimes be negative. It is also harder to work in call-to-action mechanisms, since the media itself tend to be unbiased.

Having defined simplistically what paid, earned and owned media are, what should we do as marketers to maximize what we can spend?

For paid media, we need to recognize that advertising is not going away. Advertising is evolving, rapidly, and moving from merely clever textual ads in print, to increasingly sophisticated online video advertising that can be interactive. There are also advanced augmented reality advertising campaigns that consumers can interact with through print, outdoors, and online campaigns, complete with videos and web content (talk to us if you need to understand augmented reality advertising campaigns). Paid media, because of the many conflicting and competing campaigns at the same time, forces us as marketers to become more innovative, more creative, more results-driven, and more discerning in terms of what and where we spend our advertising dollars. Be adventurous.

For earned media, we need to look beyond simply hoping for kind coverage in the media. We need to raise the bar as marketers, to help our brands elevate above the fray of our competition. There will be rants and brickbats against our brands, and we need to address the concerns and complaints in an open, above-board, welcoming, sincere manner. Nobody is perfect, and any entity (such as a company) will be prone to make mistakes. Admit to mistakes promptly, and look for remedial actions that will solve such problems, and work to earn the trust of consumers back over the long haul. We need to understand earned media as not merely media coverage in traditional media, but also, what the greater population can say about our brands to each other. It will be tough, and it will demand a great deal of understanding the social media channels and how they work. Social media channels are not advertising channels to hawk our wares like we might on paid media. But rather, social media channels are about engagement and open communication. Spend time and effort to build up open communication, and have a well-defined social media communication policy and program. Hire people suited for such roles. Keep going.

For owned media, increasingly, more can be done to go way, way beyond merely having a website. A nicely designed website is good, but having consistent, useful, and shareable information published for the long haul, even better. People are bored with mere “brochureware” websites – those belong to the 1990s. The website today has to be content-rich, with rich media content (such as online video that are “edutaining”). Owned media will not merely be a single corporate website, but has to be a wide spectrum of campaign-specific microsites, mobile-friendly content (through native, hybrid, or responsive web apps), which are automatically or thematically streamed to your social media channels. Owned media becomes the satellite hub for which all content should stem from, and increasingly, can be the source of all news and content delivery to your earned media outreach, and even integrated seamlessly with your paid media campaigns. Build tenaciously.

It is no longer a simple path for marketers today. For marketers, we need to understand how much we have in our pockets, and how to spread those dollars to the 3 slices of paid, earned, and owned media. And more importantly, we need to build up our owned media for the long haul to become the hub from which many outreach and marketing campaigns can develop from. May you have a fruitful journey!