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Earned, Owned, & Paid Media in the Tool Industry

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Let’s talk about product marketing, specifically different types of media coverage.

In the tool media industry, just about every type of tool-related content can be described as being either earned media, owned media, or paid media.

This includes tool reviews, blog posts, magazine articles, news stories, YouTube videos, Instagram posts, TikToks, and other forms of tool-related content.

The medium isn’t important here, as earned, owned, and paid media can be found in print, social media, videos, and other content formats.

It is also important to note that all three types of media typically refer to product, brand, or retailer-related content. This also applies to creative works; showing off your new woodworking project could be considered your owned media.

Here is how I (unofficially) define the three types of media, simplified for relevancy:

Earned Media: Organic content, such as news stories, blog posts, professional reviews, user reviews, and other free publicity.

Owned Media: Content created by a brand or company, such as email newsletters, product listings, their own blog posts, or social media activity on branded channels.

Paid Media: Advertising, sponsored content, or other promotional efforts that are paid for.

The differentiation is fairly straight forward. Free press coverage? Earned media. Paid partnership content? Paid media. A brand’s new tool announcements on social media? Owned media.

Changing Trends

I founded ToolGuyd in 2008, and so I have been a content creator – or blogger if you prefer – for a long time now. I learned much about press and media relations from brand and retailer contacts and marketing professionals who were still primarily used to working with magazines and journalists.

Things are very different today.

There have been significant shifts in all three types of media over the past few years. Many brands have launched or expanded paid media efforts, usually involving sponsored influencers, and most have also increased their owned media efforts with direct-to-consumer email communications and social media posts.

The best PR, media, and marketing professionals and teams have adapted with the times and learned how to balance their efforts to support all of the different types of media.

However, too many have expanded their owned and paid media efforts at the expense of earned media.

Increasingly, and this is a big part of what prompted this post, too many marketing professionals don’t quite know how to support earned media anymore. I spoke to a “social media marketing specialist” today that apparently didn’t know what “earned media” even meant. Granted, earned media is somewhat of a technical term, but one I assume marketing professionals would be familiar with.

Some brands moved to prioritize owned media, forgoing traditional PR outreach to make their own product announcements via social media and direct-to-consumer email newsletters. That’s their prerogative, but it’s frustrating how many times I’ll be asked to insert marketing statements into posts I had zero press or media support for. Some brands prioritize paid influencers and try the same.

If a brand wants certain details or insights made available to me or ToolGuyd for earned media coverage, they need to provide it before I am left to independently source product launch details from whatever social media and consumer marketing materials I can find.

Corrections, product details, or specs updates are always welcome. But to ask me to add marketing messages to posts I didn’t receive a press release, courtesy fact sheet announcement, or test samples for? The kicker is that brands I have great relationships with never ask this of me, it’s only the ones that seem to have abandoned earned media PR efforts that try to get me to add marketing blurbs to published posts.

A brand recently expressed interest in working with me/ToolGuyd again, and it sounded like they simply wanted to submit a fact sheet and test sample for news or review consideration. I have never had anything other than a press/media relationship with this brand, and I assumed they were simply misusing the term “partnership.”

I asked if this would be an earned media campaign, and they seemed confused by this.

No, they sent over contracts that stated the hand tool they wanted featured would be “in lieu of cash compensation.” The tool in question has a ~$45 retail value, and so we’re not talking about workshop equipment or a higher valued product that might require special consideration.

I learned a few lessons the hard way over the years, but “tools as compensation” is something I have always been opposed to. Tools as payment doesn’t work for earned or paid media.

Earned media also doesn’t involve contracts or “partnership” labels.

What’s left if brands’ efforts towards earned media support is further cannibalized by their owned and paid media marketing strategies? Paid media?

Don’t get me wrong, I am open to and appreciative of sponsorship opportunities when interests and ethics align, but ToolGuyd’s everyday content is unsponsored. Many modern marketing efforts are clearly skewed towards social media and influencers, and such approaches don’t work well to provide the deeper insights I seek or support the content I produce.

I try to understand that marketing trends are a product of the times and how popular social media has become, and so I don’t take things too personally anymore.

Still, too many PR and marketing teams have all but abandoned earned media efforts in recent years.

On the bright side, I spoke today with a tool brand that recently set up a new in-house PR and marketing team, and they seem committed to providing detailed and timely media resources and press information. A major brand also recently greatly improved their press release distribution efforts, making good on the promises one of their outgoing managers made a year or two ago.

Things are never going back to how they were, but there are signs that marketers are adjusting towards a new balance between earned, owned, and paid media. I sure hope so, and that this isn’t just wishful thinking.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

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