The mystery of free media

OK planet brains, I need your help.

I was in a meeting the other day, and someone said that we should move the client’s money ‘out of paid media and into free media that are earned or owned’.  Everybody concurred, and I must say it seemed to make eminent sense to me too.  After all, why would you ever want to pay for something, if you could get it all for free.

My problem is that, as the meeting went on, every time someone gave an example of ‘earned and owned media’ it sounded like you’d have to shell out for it, just like ‘paid media’.  Sometimes more.

For instance, when we came to the ‘earned’ variety, there was much talk of ‘social media’.  But I think this must have been a mistake because (leaving aside the bigger question as to whether you should use ‘social’ as a ‘medium’ in the first place) everybody knows that creating a consistent presence in that space costs money. Likewise, ‘public relations’ kept cropping up.  But everybody knows that great PR (the fantastic stuff that builds reputations and gets people talking – not the churning out of press releases) doesn’t come cheap.

It was the same story when the conversation turned to ‘owned media’.  The client in question was a retailer, so the most obvious option here was using the in-store presence.  But of course, kitting out all those shops – and then keeping them all fresh – would cost a bomb, so this can’t have been the elusive ‘free media’ that we were supposed to be looking for.  Maybe they meant digital assets, but every website, mobile site, app or widget I’ve ever worked on has had to be ‘paid for’ by someone (and then typically advertised on top of that). So again, I was a bit bamboozled.

In the end, I’m ashamed to say I just gave up on the ‘earned’, ‘owned’ and ‘paid for’ distinction and did what I always do: think in terms of ‘media that will work best here’ and ‘media that won’t work here’ (that was another thing I found weird: the whole question of effectiveness never cropped up, during the whole meeting.  I guess we must be doing that next week).

By focusing on the output (what would achieve the best result) rather than the input (precisely how it’s paid for) I’m obviously missing a trick.  But unless somebody can show me the light, I suppose I’ll just have to muddle along for now.

  • Justin Stark

    I think you hit the
    nail on the head here Andy – unsurprisingly there’s still no such thing as a free

    Clients’ objectives
    have changed little if at all throughout my time in media. They want to create an
    engaging dialogue with their existing and prospective customers, reaching them
    through the most relevant channels and drive the desired response in the most
    cost effective way.  

    On face value ‘earned’
    and ‘owned’ media can seem tantalisingly cheap ways of doing this and they
    certainly can provide considerable added and exponential (think viral) value to
    a brand. But my experience is that the vast majority do so only as an element
    of a meticulously developed and integrated communication plan, constructed by
    talented and experienced media practitioners from multiple disciplines.

    Having said that
    though, if you do look at ‘earned’ and ‘owned’ media in isolation, what I find
    absolutely fascinating and extremely positive is the sheer abundance of creativity that can be
    harnessed cost effectively. The digital phenomenon has ‘democratised’ so
    many things and the creation of outstanding content is right up the list. No
    longer do you have to pay through the nose to generate amazing creative assets
    and there are a growing number of thriving smaller agencies that lay testament
    to that.

    If you can work with
    great ‘creators’ your chances of capitalising on the full benefits of ‘earned’
    and ‘owned’ rise immeasurably, and I encourage clients and agencies to explore
    the wealth of opportunity the UK has to offer – lunch is still not free but it
    can be very good and surprisingly cost effective!

    • Andy nairn

      Yes, you’re absolutely right.  The whole thing needs to be considered in the round, and from the point of view of cost-effectiveness – rather than in isolation, through the lens of pure price.  


    Oh joy.  I keep saying ‘stop saving your clients money and starting making them some’.  The industry seems to have lost the art of asking brands to invest for immediate and long-term profit.  Broadcast TV costs a ha’penny a view, plus will earn some more if the creative’s any good.  Seeding virals seems to cost considerably more per view than just buying some frigging airtime.

    We received an email the other offering to ‘get’ us more Twitter followers at 10p a pop.  Crazy stuff.

    We’re just about to commission a new study on POEM (paid, owned, earned media) to understand better the relationship between them and we’re hoping that the results are POETIC 😉

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