How Owned Media Unites PR & Advertising


Flash back to my college years, wayyy back in the mid-aughts. Summer waned and fall classes creeped nearer. Having started down my j-school’s strategic communications track, another soul-searching decision awaited me: advertising or public relations.

We consider one the domain of paid media. The other we often associate with earned.

If only I knew then what I know now, my precious collegiate time spent worrying and weighing those two options could have been saved and spent on other scholarly pursuits like Undie Runs or tailgate planning.

Because, ultimately, it doesn’t matter.

The digital revolution has empowered a third category, owned media, to eliminate the gap between paid and earned. It’s given communicators without a country, those poor college students and professionals feeling pulled in two directions, the hybrid channels to express themselves and their clients’ or companies’ purpose in incredibly intimate and intricate ways.


Owned media such as websites combines the best of both paid and earned and requires the sort of skills honed while working with each.

Imagine the creative freedom and control offered by advertising combined with the in-depth analysis and stress-tested messaging of PR-driven earned media. It also presents the unique challenge of building an audience from scratch through SEO, slow-and-steady relationship building and sometimes help from the other two.

With so much overlap between all three forms, our old marketing definitions and job titles no longer apply. Ask folks to define “advertising” or “public relations” and you’ll get a different answer each time. The Public Relations Society of America had such a hard time settling on a modern definition of PR it left the final decision up to a public vote.

To some it may seem like an identity crisis, but it’s really a huge opportunity already being seized by some to shed old ways of thinking and view marketing in more holistic terms. The next time your company or organization faces a business challenge, the first question you should ask yourself when determining marketing’s role is whether paid, owned or earned media is the solution.

More often than not, the right answer is ‘all of the above.’

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