Startup founders unfamiliar with the world of marketing and public relations may not have heard of “paid,” “earned,” and “owned” media. If the founders don’t come from a media or journalistic background, they may never have given the matter a second’s thought. Yet if they wish for their firms to grow and succeed, they must consider, and employ, all three tools.
In earned media, money doesn’t change hands: The writer, podcaster, reporter, or host covering a project has no financial connection to the content covered. The media person has a business model — ad sales, subscriptions, conference promotion — but that business plan is not contingent on payments from subjects. Paid media is exactly what it sounds like: Subway ads and posters, TV or YouTube commercials, sponsored audio ads on podcasts, social media and search ads, and, sometimes, paid appearances on any of these. Owned media includes blog posts, social media, and websites controlled by the company.
Everyone has a website, and you’ll find most founders are active on social media, so it’s assumed that you’ll be producing owned media. Should startups focus on earned or paid media? Actually, that’s a false dilemma: Both are key components of any startup’s rollout. A mix of new and old media and of paid and earned placements is almost invariably the best strategy. Startups have new ideas and new messages. As such, they need to take advantage of every tool at hand.
Sometimes old ways endure for a reason. Many blockchain and digital assets firms seek Wall Street’s attention, and there are few faster ways to attention than placing ads in New York’s Financial District. The Gemini cryptocurrency exchange ran bus and subway ads across New York and got people talking. More recently, Blockstack, the first firm to conduct an SEC-qualified token sale, ran physical campaigns in downtown NYC, Mountain View, and San Francisco. And print ads, old-fashioned as they may seem, continue to be championed by forward-thinking companies. Just this week, German fintech N26, now in the midst of its long-awaited US launch, debuted a series of gigantic advertisements at the Wall St. subway stop.
The rise of the mobile broadband internet has made several new forms of paid media essential to startup success. Search ads and social media ads are familiar enough, but even newer forms of media can play an outsize role in bringing a firm to prominence. In blockchain and digital assets in particular, influencers can drive conversation. While podcasts or YouTube channels sponsored by larger media organizations often don’t accept payment for features, many independent outlets expect that their hosts and production team will be paid for their time and exposure. And we shouldn’t attribute this to greed: Ethical programs will disclose monetary considerations that they receive, and the research, rehearsal, production, and filming or taping of these programs all take time, energy, and passion.
There should be a balance between owned, earned, and paid media, but what that balance looks like may vary over the course of a firm or project’s life. Paid media, for example, may not make much sense when a firm has completed a round of fundraising and hired a team, but hasn’t yet launched a product. Similarly, owned media may be more important during a crisis than during a time of great success, since frustrated clients and customers want to know their concerns have been heard. A startup’s journey is long and difficult; correct employment of media can make a hard road easier.