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Uses, Benefits & Limitations of Earned Media vs. Paid Media

Paige Sander
Earned media and paid media are two very different things, but the terms often get used interchangeably (and therefore, incorrectly). In this blog we’ll define both, and discuss the important differentiators that all marketing professionals need to understand before moving forward with either.

Earned Media

The definition of earned media is any placement or coverage you receive ORGANICALLY — in other words, you did not compensate the outlet in any form for the attention. Earned media can be hard to get (and hard to track when do you do get it), but has considerable benefits as far as branding, exposure, and building credibility.


When your brand is positively represented or covered in an outlet that your target audience follows, there are a few long-lasting benefits of that coverage:

Brand Exposure: Regular readers of the outlet will consume the positive coverage, and several things could follow - word of mouth communication, further research into the brand, cross-channel engagement (following on social), and of course conversion into actual customers. It’s important to remember that an article may not immediately influence someone’s buying decision, but could help them convert one month, six months, or even a year after consuming the content. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Brand Loyalty: Consumers who are already familiar with your brand may feel a deeper connection after reading positive coverage, moving them closer to becoming organic brand ambassadors.

Brand Credibility: When your brand is represented positively in an authoritative outlet (i.e. Forbes, HuffPost) it lends your brand some of that credibility and legitimizes your place in the market.

Domain Authority: Getting a backlink on a credible site with a high domain or page authority directly contributes to your own site’s DA. This helps with search ranking.


Although getting coverage in a credible outlet is almost always a positive thing, it’s important to align content with appropriate channels and remember to only seek coverage for newsworthy stories.

Company News: Company news is difficult to define because there are only a few company news situations that are actually newsworthy. If you are a large, well-known company (think: Google, IBM, Facebook), then a change in leadership may be newsworthy, but for most companies this is not worth an article.

The same goes for new company locations, small product/brand changes, or acquisition news. These types of announcements should be presented as a press release, so the public still has access to this information if they are interested but there is no expectation to get it organically syndicated.

Thought Leadership: Thought leadership is when an individual team member speaks on a subject that they are an expert on. When done correctly, this type of coverage is effective in establishing credibility, expertise, and builds a library of resources to reference later. This often looks like a quote answering a specific question or speaking to a specific topic/issue.

Philanthropic Work: Getting coverage for internal, charitable initiatives is a good way to get featured for something positive that has less to do with the specific brand, and leaves readers with a positive sentiment. Ongoing, strategic partnerships with relevant nonprofits is the best way to secure this coverage.

Tools to Help:

  • HARO: Help a Reporter Out is a free tool that aggregates queries from actual journalists, bloggers, and influencers looking for interviews, input, and experts for their articles.
  • #JournoRequest: Journo Request is a hashtag on Twitter that journalists utilize when they are looking for input on a story.
  • Cision: This is one of the best PR tools for pitching, communicating, and managing relationships with journalists and publications.


There are several limitations to earned media that make it a difficult initiative to invest in and sell to others. These limitations are often tied to effort and ROI.

Difficult to Acquire: Journalists are bombarded with PR pitches all day, every day. This makes it extremely difficult to cut through the noise with a brand-centric story.

Difficult to Track: Although people claim to make platforms that track ROI for earned media, it’s very difficult to measure the sentiment that an individual takes away from reading brand coverage without an in-depth interview. This makes it difficult to demonstrate quantitative results for earned media.

Paid Media

Paid Media can be used as a much broader term to define several different types of media, but all share the commonality of being purchased and NOT EARNED ORGANICALLY. Paid media can be categorized into three different types - sponsored content, paid media placements (more on that later), and press releases.


Sponsored Content: Sponsored content, sometimes referred to as ‘native content’, is an editorial-style article that was purchased. This is often presented as regular content with a small ‘sponsored’ tag or some other distinction so the reader knows the content was purchased.   

Paid Media Placements: This encompasses a wide variety of paid media options, including (but not limited to) email blasts, newsletter sponsorship, white paper placements, ebook placements, advertisements, sponsored articles, webinar sponsorship, event sponsorship, content syndication, and more.

Press Releases: Unless this is an internal effort, housed on your website, then it costs money to place a press release online through PR Web. That is why it is included as a ‘paid media’ effort (more on press releases later).


Logistically Easy to Acquire: If you have a budget for paid media, then you have the means to acquire a paid media placement.

Lead Generation (sometimes): Some paid media efforts, such as gated white papers or ebooks, can also provide some lead generation.  


As its name suggests, paid media requires spending money. Great outlets generally know what a placement with them is worth and charge accordingly, and since brand exposure metrics can be difficult to track, obtaining ROI figures isn’t easy.

Expensive: Sponsored articles can be pricey, and it’s notoriously difficult to track the return on investment. (Ex: One branded article placement in Fast Company costs $50,000)

Limited Brand Exposure Metrics: Unless the content is gated, metrics provided from the publications are often still tied to brand exposure, including CTR, impressions, and shares. These can make it difficult to obtain ROI figures from publications. Often, sales folks can get away with promising “guaranteed lead gen” because their outlet is credible. But even with gated content, there is rarely an assurance that your efforts will meet goals or expectations.

Paid media

Press Releases

Press releases are more straightforward than both earned and paid media opportunities.

A press release is an official statement from a company announcing something to the public and media. It is best practice to publish these releases on PRWeb, as well as having a ‘media’ or ‘press’ section on your own site that houses all of them.  


Company News:
Press releases are the perfect medium to announce news around leadership change, business mergers & acquisitions, new company locations, new partnerships, award recognition, event announcements and more. It’s important for your audience to have access to this information if they are interested. If you house them on your site, then visitors have easy access to a timeline of company milestones and accomplishments.

News Coverage: The ultimate purpose of a press release is to announce news, but also to get organic coverage for that announcement. That’s why one use is certainly to obtain an earned media placement.


Legitimacy: Press releases are official company documents and having one on PRWeb helps lend a little bit of legitimacy to your business and company announcement. For example, tweeting about a new office location is more impactful when you can link to something that provides more information and background.


Lost in the Void: Thousands of press releases are published each day. This obviously presents a challenge for getting organic engagement or coverage for your release.

Cost: Although the cost is only $100 per release, this could add up if you’re publishing three or four releases a month. You can skip the step of putting it on PRWeb and house it solely on your site, but you lose a lot of visibility and lower the odds of getting organic coverage.

The Difference Between Paid Media & Earned Media

The biggest difference to remember when comparing earned and paid media is simple — earned media is obtained ORGANICALLY and for FREE while paid media is….PAID. Understanding that distinction will better help you understand what context and tasks are necessary for those efforts.  

When is one better than the other?

If you feel that you have a legitimately newsworthy angle/announcement then move forward with an earned media strategy. This option is time consuming, but will always be cheaper in the long run. Unfortunately, it’s rarely the case that what you’re seeking coverage for will cut through the noise that publications and reporters experience. This is just the reality of earned media, but a larger list of publications and the utilization of tools like HARO and Cision can help you find space to get a foothold.


Paid media will never be the ‘wrong’ option in a campaign, because you are guaranteeing at least some engagement or exposure.

These things may vary from industry to industry, but a good rule of thumb would be that earned media is a better option for B2C organizations because their content is more lifestyle-focused, while B2B companies tend to produce more company-focused content - making paid media a better fit.

We've been refining our Paid Media, Earned Media, Public Relations, and Influencer Marketing offerings for years. Let us show you what we got.


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