PESO Model for PR: Paid, Earned, Shared, Owned Media

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PESO is a media model strategy that stands for Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned media. Over a decade ago media channels used to be thought of in siloed ways:

  • Paid media was the primary focus of advertising
  • Earned media was the primary focus of PR
  • Shared and owned media was the primary focus of … no one

But today, there is (and should be) little distinction between media types. Marketer Rebecca Lieb calls this “the converged media imperative.” In the 2012 report, she writes:

“Agencies are often specialized and don’t feel their counterparts in other focus areas are competent in integration. Digital agencies claim social agencies lack larger brand perspective, while social agencies say media buyers ignore long-term engagement. In any case, not integrating, agencies are missing opportunities.”

The history of the PESO model

Though this idea of converging media was not new at the time, Gini Dietrich’s 2014 book Spin Sucks, coined the term PESO to include shared media (and, you know, because “PESO” is catchy). In this book, Gini established a solid framework for implementing and embracing this model that has become widespread in the industry. This diagram gives a high-level look at how each channel works on its own, and with each other.

New PESO Model

Source: Spin Sucks

2020 Update: The Spin Sucks PESO model has been updated as of March, 2020. Changes include:

  • An increased focus on strategy versus tactics
  • Google+ and Vine removed from shared media
  • Email marketing now placed between paid and owned media
  • Addition of lead generation, SEO, distribution and promotion, and marketing communications

Learn more here.


Though PESO is all about practicing a holistic marketing model, this doesn’t mean that every professional needs to be an expert in ALL areas. We still need copywriters, SEO gurus, paid media specialists, social media mavens, etc., to strengthen each PESO component.

The key is getting buy-in with your company or agency to ensure that no content is created without the proper PESO treatment.

This guide will cover the basics of the PESO model to help all of your media channels act as a single unit and work to strengthen each other.

Owned Media

Though paid media comes first in PESO, owned media comes first in the process (but Gini acknowledges that OESP isn’t a good term to brand this model!).

What is owned media?

This is (naturally) the content your business owns. It’s created specifically for your brand that is published to your website or other owned channels. You may host a blog on your web domain (and if you don’t, you should probably start). Any content, from eBooks to white papers to podcasts, are considered owned media assets.

These assets serve as the foundation to make all of your paid, earned and shared channels work. You can’t launch a campaign without telling a story or sharing a message.

It’s estimated by Gartner that by 2020, customers will manage 85 percent of their relationship with a company without ever talking to a human. The way that most of your customers will first communicate with you is through your business’s owned media (even copy and creative assets in a paid ad are considered owned media), making it the most critical component of this model.

First steps

Aside from the cost of resources to create content, owned media is free. But depending on your organization’s goals and team size, content creation could be a budget buster. To build a library of owned content, look into options such as hiring internally, recruiting freelancers, or working with an agency. Or develop a combination of the three.

Then, document a content strategy, which will help you understand your brand’s audience personas, the keywords to target, what topics and types of content to create, the platforms where you’ll publish content and how to measure performance.

Once a trusty and productive team is in place and there’s more content in the queue, you’ll be able to determine how content will be used in the rest of your channels.

Shared media

There’s no doubt that we love to create acronyms and memorable terms in this industry. It’s perhaps why shared media was added, so we could say “PESO” instead of “PEO.” Regardless, shared media is a crucial addition and a component that hardly existed for brands a decade ago.

Shared media could be considered a sector of owned media because you own the content that is published to your social media platforms. However, each social platform has its own quirks and characteristics that require different content and campaigns.

Understanding these nuances of the platforms and what segments of your audience are on each will help dictate the owned media you create.

Online word-of-mouth

Once you share something to your social media channels, what happens next is out of your hands. The engagements, comments and shares your content receives is up to your audience. It’s online word-of-mouth, so you lose the ability to control exactly who is sharing your content, what they’re saying about it and where it’s happening.

The slightest mistake can turn into a viral post that could be damaging to your brand. Take this example of DiGiorno Pizza. They posted a tweet that misused a trending hashtag, proving that they probably didn’t do their research before hitting “publish.”

But when a social media campaign is well-received, the results can be rewarding. When it comes to shared media, the social posts you craft are just part of the equation. In many cases, owned, earned AND paid media can all turn into shared media if people find the content worth talking about and sharing with others. It’s a powerful way to spread awareness of your brand, gain new followers and even generate new customers.

Earned Media

Traditionally, earned media is a PR pitch sent to a journalist who may include the brand in a featured story or mention it in an article in some way, whether it’s a print or online publication. In this sense, earned media is all about relationship building.

New definition of earned media

Today, PR and marketing pros aren’t just pitching journalists; they’re pitching blogger and social media influencers with large followings who trust the influencer’s recommendations.

In addition, they’re sending pitches to editors and webmasters of relevant websites inquiring about including a backlink to a piece of owned content or to contribute a guest post (which usually includes a link or two back to the brand’s website).

This enhances the authority and credibility of your business to audiences — and to Google, which rewards backlinks by boosting the rank of content in SERPs.

[Related content: The Quality Content Series: How Quality Links Boost SEO]

In this sense, search engine optimization is an earned media play. Though there are more than 200 factors that Google assesses to rank content, securing quality backlinks from websites with a high domain authority that are trusted by the public is a critical factor to boost rankings.

The challenge of earned media

Whether it’s securing coverage in a print magazine, a blog, or on an influencer’s Instagram page, it’s tougher than ever for your pitch to stand out. Fifty-seven percent of top-tier publishers receive between 50 and 500 pitches each week while 53 percent of journalists report that they rarely or never read pitches. This data doesn’t include editors and webmasters at other organizations who receive pitches to write a guest post or to include a backlink.

It takes more time and energy to secure earned media. It’s why PR and marketing professionals are supplementing their outreach strategy with paid media solutions.

Paid Media

Paid media has quickly become your best strategy for better targeting and control of who is seeing your content. It’s how you’ll get your owned content seen among the saturated online landscape — put it right in front of their faces.

Typically centered on pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns on Google or a local newspaper website, paid media tactics now rely largely on native advertising. Native ads are media placements that fit the form and function of the surrounding editorial content on a webpage. It should look “native” to the page.

The ad links to sponsored, owned or earned media — really, anything your brand wants people to read. Here are examples of three popular native advertising types, and the pros and cons of each:

1. Content Syndication Using Discovery Platforms

Content discovery platforms such as Outbrain, Taboola and StackAdapt are a common native advertising format. They highlight thumbnails, headlines and links to content at the bottom of an article. It looks to be part of a “read more” section of a website with the main goal of driving high traffic at a low cost.

2. Social Media Promotion

Promoted posts on social media look just like all the other posts in your feed — they fit the look and feel of the platform and use language such as “Sponsored” (Facebook) or “Promoted” (LinkedIn) to designate it as a paid post. With refined targeting options (especially on Facebook), you’re more likely to reach the people that would actually convert after engaging with your content.

It’s also a great tool for A/B testing content. Before promoting a post, see which ones perform well organically first. There’s also no fixed pricing so you can promote sponsored posts as your budget allows. Take into consideration that you may still reap earned benefits of a paid post even after the end of its lifespan. If users shared the post in their own feeds, it could still receive views and engagement.

3. Sponsored Content

Sponsored content is also considered a type of native advertising because it fits the form and function of its host, but it’s not an ad. It’s a longer-form piece of brand-sponsored content such as an article or video that lives on a media publisher’s site. According to this Moz blog post, “Brands value this because association with a publication and exposure to its audience can drive awareness, traffic, conversions and leads.”

The content is not about the brand, but rather a related topic. If you’re selling eco-friendly napkins, your article won’t be about how your company was founded. Rather, it’ll list five tips for going green while eating out. Your article will only have one or two brand mentions throughout.

Sponsored content is less in-your-face. Because it looks and reads just like the other articles on the hosted website and provides valuable information, readers will feel more inclined to engage with it. This forms a more favorable view of your brand.

4. The Modern MAT Release

Before the term “sponsored content” became so buzzy, PR pros used the MAT release to garner media coverage in publications across the country.

MAT releases are still a tried-and-true content distribution method, used mainly to increase brand awareness. Unlike paying one fee to host content on a publisher’s website, you pay for a MAT release to be distributed through a vendor (like Brandpoint), and the article is then placed within the publications in that vendor’s content distribution network.

Editors also have the opportunity to choose content from brands to fill space when needed, which turns the MAT release into an earned media property as well. To further capitalize on this placement, you can share a published MAT release with your social media followers.

[Learn more — Paid Media for Beginners: How Do I use Native Advertising & Sponsored Content?]

Making it all come together

All four media strategies work together. But it all comes down to creating owned content that is useful to your audience. This content could power a paid media campaign, which could lead to earned media benefits through social sharing and other online conversations.

Need content for your PESO strategies? These are the five types you need. Download the free eBook here.


Editor’s note: This post was originally published in August 2017 and has been updated for clarity and comprehensiveness.

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