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The 2024 Cision and PRWeek Global Comms Report

Find out how 400+ PR and comms leaders worldwide are approaching the way they work in today’s media landscape.

The PESO Model – What It Is & How To Nail It

four people smiling in a meeting

There are more ways than ever to promote your brand. To make sense of it all, the industry turns to frameworks like the PESO Model™. But what is PESO, and how does it relate to PR? Let’s dive into the components of PESO and how you can use it to elevate your PR strategy

What Is The PESO Model?

PESO stands for paid, earned, shared, and owned media. 

It’s a theory developed by PR expert, Gini Dietrich – founder and CEO of the buzzing PR community Spin Sucks – and is used in the PR industry to describe the four main channels brands use to communicate with their customers.

“A little more than a decade ago, we were fighting the ‘what have you done for me lately’ battle with clients because, as it turns out, the media doesn’t write about the same organization over and over again. So what we found were peaks and valleys between news coverage,” Gini says, “The peaks were fun because you had a tangible result in the form of media coverage. But the valleys sucked—and no one wanted to pay an agency when there wasn’t any coverage. That was the genesis for the PESO Model. Suddenly, we had a way to fill those valleys and demonstrate real results.”

Gini Dietrich, Founder, Spin Sucks

Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Paid media is the promotional content that your brand pays for.

  • Earned media is any publicity your brand gets without paying for it directly. 

  • Shared media is content your audience shares with others. 

  • Owned media is the content and channels your brand directly controls. 

Taken together, these PESO channels make up a brand’s strategic communications framework. Courtesy of Spin Sucks, here are all of the ways marketing assets, tactics, and distribution channels fit into the PESO marketing model – mapped out in the form of a handy venn diagram.

 

Gini Dietrich Spin Sucks PESO model venn diagram showcasing crossover between marketing activities between paid, earned, owned, and shared media

To help you better understand this framework, let’s dive into a quick brand example… 

A Brand Example of the PESO Model: UberEats

UberEats recently went viral with a Super Bowl teaser ad featuring David and Victoria Beckham.

The ad capitalized on the "Be honest" pop culture meme that trended a couple of months earlier, which itself originated from a comical scene from David Beckham's Netflix documentary.

UberEats’ campaign embraces all four elements of the PESO Model…

Paid Media

On top of producing their own teaser ad, UberEats have a feature Super Bowl ad in the pipeline, and have worked with major celebrity influencers to both star in and push out their campaign. Victoria Beckham, for example, has been active across all social channels promoting the teaser ad.

An example of paid media from UberEats showing OOH feature advertising and influencer collaborations with Victoria and David Beckham

Types of paid media present:

  • OOH (Out Of Home) feature advertising

  • Influencer collaborations & marketing

Earned Media

Through the power of celebrity influencers, pop culture references, and a creative stunt, UberEats instantly earned coverage from major publishers and media outlets.

An example of earned media from UberEats showing media coverage and social posts of ad collaboration with Victoria and David Beckham

Types of earned media present:

  • Press coverage from national publications

  • Social coverage from media outlets

Shared Media

Once the teaser ad was released and promoted, audiences were quick to share across social media, even creating their own user-generated content riffing on it.

An example of shared media from UberEats showing  organic social posts and UGC featuring their ad with Victoria and David Beckham

Types of shared media present:

  • Organic social

  • UGC (User-generated content)

Owned Media

UberEats created the teaser video ad and released it on all their owned social channels, including YouTube and LinkedIn, which acted as the catalyst for paid, earned, and shared media activities.

An example of owned media from UberEats showing video content and owned social channel promotions with Victoria and David Beckham

Types of owned media present:

  • Video content

  • Owned social channels

So far, Uber Eats’ holistic PESO approach to its ad campaign has earned them a potential reach of 1.2 billion; the highest peak they’ve reached all year, according to data from CisionOne’s Instant Insights feature.

A chart from CisionOne Instant Insights feature showing potential audience reach peaking to the highest point all yera for UberEats' super bowl teaser ad featuring the Beckhams

Now that we know how it works in practice, let’s talk about each media type in more detail.

What Is Paid Media?

Paid media is any form of customer communication that your company pays for. It includes digital communications like… 

…And incorporates non-digital communications like print and radio ads, television commercials, and billboards.

The Benefits of Paid Media

Paid media gives you a lot of control over your communications, and comes with the following benefits: 

  • Precise targeting: With paid media, you can select specific demographics, interests, and behaviors to ensure your message reaches the right people.

  • Personalized messaging: You can customize each campaign to amplify the key messages and promotions that will speak to your target audience.

  • Quick results: Your content can appear at the top of search engine results or in users' social media feeds almost immediately, increasing your brand's visibility.

  • Guaranteed placement: You’re guaranteed to get in front of your target audience.

  • Increased ownership: You can control the narrative, by promoting owned media.

  • Easy to scale: Depending on your spend, you can scale your reach and brand awareness fairly easily.

The Disadvantages of Paid Media

  • Performance isn’t guaranteed: You’ll get in front of your audience with paid media, but positive campaign performance and ROI is not guaranteed.

  • Budget dependent: Your reach and engagement are dependent on your PR budget – if that budget is cut, reach will drop.

  • Costly in time, resource, and capital: It requires ongoing planning and investment.

What Is Earned Media?

Earned media is any unpaid publicity your brand gains through sources outside your company. It includes: 

And other types of exposure that you don’t directly pay for. In short, if someone is talking about your brand, that’s earned media. 

The Benefits of Earned Media

Earned media coverage often involves a longer-term strategy than paid media, and you don’t have direct control over exactly what happens. However, this also gives it some unique benefits:

  • Credibility: Earned media is often seen as more credible and trustworthy when it comes from reputable third-party sources rather than the brand itself.

  • Halo effect: Earned media can create a positive buzz for your brand that lasts long after a campaign has finished.

  • Affordability: Compared to paid media, earned media is often more affordable, while having a massive impact.

  • SEO and traffic boost: You can improve SEO if your brand is mentioned and referenced by authoritative sources.

The Disadvantages of Earned Media

  • Less control: There’s no guarantee you’ll secure mentions for your brand – it is reliant on third party advocacy.

  • Takes time and carries risk: Investing in earned media activities to build PR can be time/resource intensive. The risk comes with spending too much time for no guaranteed result.

  • Competitive: The number of PR professionals and marketers looking to earn media mentions far outweighs the number of (ever dwindling) journalists, so when it comes to pitching, things can get very competitive. That means it’s increasingly difficult to earn media for your brand.

What Is Shared Media?

Shared media refers to any coverage your brand gains when your audience not only shares and amplifies your content online, but also adds their own opinion or develops the narrative in some way. 

Owned media example: You post a link to a new blog on your brand’s social media – that’s owned media.

Earned media example: Your post earns thousands of likes and gets press coverage – that’s earned media. 

Shared media example: But when your followers retweet your post with a comment, create a TikTok response to your owned media, or create any form of UGC content surrounding your brand  – that’s shared media.

The Benefits of Shared Media

Like earned media, shared media has the benefit of coming from an outside source, making it more legitimate. Further benefits include:

  • Authenticity: Shared media is user-generated, so it comes across as more authentic and relatable than traditional marketing.

  • Community: User-generated content also creates a sense of community among your audience, strengthening their connection to your brand.

  • A strong indicator of brand performance: Organic reach reflects the quality and relevance of your brand.

  • Cost-effective: This form of distribution doesn’t cost you a penny.

The Disadvantages of Shared Media

  • Unpredictable: Hard to encourage or predict virality and engagement rates.

  • Hard to control: Many external factors influence your shared media performance. Positive AND negative stories can spread quickly. Unless you have 360 tracking tools, the story can be tricky to spot and manage.

What Is Owned Media?

Owned media is the communication channels your brand directly owns and controls. It includes your: 

  • Website

  • Blogs

  • Social media pages 

  • Emails

  • Mobile apps 

Think of it this way: If you fully control a channel’s content creation, messaging, and distribution, it’s likely owned media. 

With owned media, there’s no ongoing financial investment. For example, while you might pay someone to set up or make changes to your website, you’ll likely take over operations. Similarly, you might pay someone to write and even post blogs for your brand, but you ultimately own and control the domain where they’re posted. 

The Benefits of Owned Media

Owned media puts you in the driver's seat, allowing you to control your brand narrative. Here's why owned media is essential:

  • Consistency: You have complete control over the content and tone, so you can present a consistent brand identity and messaging.

  • Direct communication: Open, direct lines of communication allow you to engage with customers, answer their questions, and address their concerns in real-time.

  • Long-term benefits: Owned media investment leads to long-term brand building. For example, building out your website and blog content can boost your organic traffic and brand equity. You can also generate sustained interest as long as your owned assets are evergreen.

  • Low-risk: You have total control of owned media, so you can shape the story.

The Disadvantages of Owned Media

  • Time intensive: It usually takes time to build a loyal follower base, and encourage shared or earned media.

  • Often reliant on other media channels: Successful owned media is usually supported by other promo channels.

How Do You Create a PESO Model?

We call it PESO, but if you approach it in the order most marketers tend to, then it should probably be renamed the OPSE model – not as catchy, I’ll admit!

Gini agrees. “Too funny! I once debated a college student about this very thing. His point was that you’d almost never start a communications program with paid media, so you shouldn’t begin the acronym that way. And he was half right. It’s PESO because it’s easier to remember, but to your point, if it were ordered the way you should execute, it could be OESP or OSEP. Not as easy to remember, is it? So PESO it is.”

Step 1: Owned Media

Put yourself in the shoes of a CMO at a fledgling startup. What form of marketing would they begin with? It’s likely going to be owned. They’ll start off creating their own content marketing assets, customer stories, optimizing their search presence, and building out their inbound marketing. 

The owned media model leans more towards content creation than distribution, but, in the words of Andy Crestodina “Every piece of content should be created with a promotion plan in mind.”

A great way to kick this off is by laying out an editorial calendar of high-demand events throughout the year, and planning your content in alignment with them. Even better is to zero in on topics that drive traction and intrigue in the press, so that the content you create is primed for media coverage. 

A graphic visual of Cision's 2024 PR Content Calendar

Grab our ready-to-use PR and Comms Content Planning Calendar, so you can hit the ground running.

Step 2: Paid Media

Once they have assets to promote, a startup might invest in paid channels like PPC and social ads to amplify their content to new audiences at speed.

Step 3: Shared Media

Off the back of owned and paid efforts, a company will likely earn shares and advocacy from their audience across social channels, forums, and networks.

Step 4: Earned Media

After considerable PR effort (eg. pitching journalists with relevant stories), a brand will hopefully gain third-party validation via press coverage in business and industry publications. 

For tips on pitching journalists, check out our guide: Mastering the Pitch: Data-Backed Strategies for Smarter PR

Why follow the PESO model in this order? 

Starting with owned and paid media tend to make more sense because:

  1. They are things you can control and have ownership over. 

  2. Direct input usually leads to output and some form of measurable result. 

That said, results are usually modest and take time to nurture and grow.

With shared and earned media:

  1. You have less control and ownership. 

  2. Input doesn’t always guarantee output and measurable results – it relies on your ability to convince your advocates and your audience to promote on your behalf. 

But when you unlock that ability, you’ll have multiple voices amplifying your brand, which can snowball into huge growth. Some brands are able to generate impressive organic results from owned media alone, but it’s often a long slog to get to that point. Paid, shared, and earned media help push your brand out to new audiences at a much faster rate. 

While it makes sense to start with the channels you can control, if you’re in a hurry to accelerate your marketing efforts you may want to skip a step or mix things up. Tim Soulo, CMO of SaaS SEO platform Ahrefs, did just this. Instead of beginning with owned initiatives, like most, he dove headfirst into another form of media. Let’s take a look…

A PESO Model Example: Ahrefs Case Study

Joining the Demand Gen Chat podcast, Tim Soulo told listeners that he was the first marketing hire at Ahrefs when it was only a 15 person company. He had to build the marketing function from scratch. But, instead of starting with owned media activities, he turned outward to his community.

Spin Sucks PESO model venn diagram, highlighting Ahrefs' shared media activities in color, with the rest of the PESO model greyed out 1. Ahrefs Began with Community Engagement (Shared Media)

Tim initially took a shared media approach – he went to SEO forums and engaged directly with the community to get feedback. This helped him learn about his industry’s needs.

Posting a thread introducing himself as the new marketing director at Ahrefs, he asked people to give honest feedback about their tools: what they liked, didn't like, wanted improved, etc. He then engaged directly with criticism and negative feedback instead of avoiding it, and used these forum discussions to better understand people's use cases, pain points with other tools, and desires for SEO software.

Getting a sense of what competitors were missing allowed him to showcase what Ahrefs did differently or better when promoting through owned media later on.

Spin Sucks PESO model venn diagram, highlighting Ahrefs' owned media activities in color, with the rest of the PESO model greyed out 2. They Invested In Customers and Content (Owned Media)

Tim also spent time using the product and talking to customers. This helped him deeply understand who the customer was and how they used the tool. As the marketing team grew, he had new marketing hires start off in customer support to learn the product first before creating content. This ensured relevancy.

Leveraging their learnings, the team began creating SEO educational content on the Ahrefs blog, showcasing how the tool can be used for specific SEO activities. A lot of effort was put into creating high-quality, detailed blog content, often involving 3-4 people working on a single article.

Spin Sucks PESO model venn diagram, highlighting Ahrefs' earned media activities in color, with the rest of the PESO model greyed out 3. Ahrefs Grew Through Word of Mouth Referrals (Earned Media)

Product-led educational content, combined with Ahrefs’ active participation in forums, helped drive word-of-mouth referrals. While paying customers made up one third of Ahrefs' daily active users, two thirds were using free trials as a result of word-of-mouth and earned media.

Tim also notes that Ahrefs was regularly "name dropped" in podcasts and blog content when he engaged with the SEO community. This earned media exposure suggests word-of-mouth referrals had spread throughout the industry.

Spin Sucks PESO model venn diagram, highlighting Ahrefs' paid media activities in color, with the rest of the PESO model greyed out 4. They Promoted Their Content With Advertising (Paid Media)

A paid strategy was adopted later in Ahrefs' journey, once the marketing team grew and their content strategy was more established. The team realized publishing content organically only reached their existing audience. To maximize the effort put into content creation, they began creating Facebook ads to drive traffic and new readers into their newest and evergreen content pieces.

Leveraging paid ads to amplify and distribute owned media content (rather than directly selling products/trials) was an additional layer they added to scale the marketing strategy. So in the beginning, Ahrefs invested time in community engagement, then moved on to owned media activities, like direct customer interactions and creating educational product content. Eventually their hard work paid off and word spread of their great product, until, finally, they backed themselves with an advertising strategy

As a result of a PESO-fueled approach to marketing, Ahrefs grew to $40 million annual recurring revenue (ARR), and their core pillars of product, community, and education still drive their marketing today.

What Should I Measure in the PESO Model?

If you’re applying the PESO Model to your PR or marketing, you should have a top-level overview of key metrics for each form of media. Think about building a PESO dashboard and plugging in data from your key sources. Here’s how you might think about that:

A table showing how to measure each part of the PESO model, with tool, KPI, and dashboard report recommendations

Then add in any other sub metrics that align with your overarching goals. Get ideas from the lists below:

   Paid Media KPIs:

   - Impressions

   - Click-through rate  

   - Cost per click

   - Conversion rate

   - Return on ad spend

   

  Earned Media KPIs:

   - Number of press mentions  

   - Number of media outlets 

   - Sentiment of coverage

   - Publicity values

   - Share of voice

   

   Shared Media KPIs:

   - Social shares

   - Share rate

   - Sentiment of shares

   - Virality/spread

   - Conversation volume

   Owned Media KPIs:

   - Site traffic

   - Time on site

   - Search engine rankings

   - Subscriber growth

   - Attributed sales

What Are the Pros & Cons of the PESO Model?

The PESO model can drive exposure, top-of-funnel growth, increased credibility, and cost-efficiency for your brand but, as with anything, it comes with some drawbacks. Such a comprehensive strategy can be time-consuming to resource and execute, and the framework itself can sometimes conflate inputs and outputs/tactics and results. But, for now, let’s dig a little deeper into some of the undeniable benefits:

1. Enhanced brand authority

Getting your PESO comms strategy right means you’re viewed as an authority by customers and competitors alike. You have successfully convinced stakeholders outside of your business to advocate for you which, in turn, builds credibility and trust with potential new consumers.

2. Improved traffic and SEO

With improved authority comes an uptick in references like brand mentions and links. These votes of trust drive more traffic to your brand, which can further cement your credibility. And, with search engines’ improved ability to understand semantic connections between topics and entities, brand mentions are growing in importance in SEO terms. If you want to know more about that, check out Andrew Holland’s Search Engine Land article: Why brand mentions are the future of backlinks.

A visual show a simple entity map for website A and website B. Website A has guest posts linking back to it, while Website B has media mentions and guest posts connected to it. Image from Andrew Hollands Search Engine Land article on the future of backlinks

3. Brand equity

Brand equity is an intangible thing, but it can be incredibly important for your business. When your brand unlocks positive brand equity, it means your consumers are far more likely to be loyal, make positive associations with your brand, and perceive your products or services as high quality. 

Find out more brand equity, including what it looks like in practice and how to measure it, by reading our brand equity guide.

4. Brand value 

Once your PESO strategy helps you achieve brand equity, your brand’s value will soar, and investors will reward you with more capital and higher valuations.

Leveraging PESO for Public Relations 

If you can leverage PESO in your communications strategy, you’ll maximize your brand’s reach and impact. PR falls under the earned media arm of PESO, and primarily enables your brand to pick up shares and publicity.

It’s arguably the most powerful part of the PESO formula, since it encourages votes of confidence from two kinds of reliable third-party sources: social media users and the press. This is particularly important because one source reinforces your brand’s authenticity (social media users) while the other gives it greater authority (the press).

No other channel in the PESO model can activate both of these audiences. But, as we explored earlier, earned media can be especially tricky to unlock. To do so, you need to spin a lot of plates, from building relationships with the media (eg. assessing journalist activity so you can craft relevant pitches), to reviewing and optimizing your PR efforts using data (eg. using sentiment data to analyze press mentions and assess brand perception).

As a leader in public relations, earned media, and shared media, Cision can help you grown your earned media presence. We offer tools and expertise that help you create an integrated media strategy across all PESO channels, then track, optimize, and demonstrate their effectiveness. 

Contact a Cision expert today to discover how you can enhance your PESO strategy and drive measurable outcomes for your business.

 

FAQ about PESO marketing

What Is the Difference Between Paid Media and Owned Media?

Both paid media and owned media can involve payment, making them easy to mix up. However, paid media is a more direct financial investment: You pay an advertising company, and they run ads for you. If the funding runs out, the ads stop. 

What Is the Difference Between Paid Media and Earned Media?

The difference between paid media and earned media is simple: If you paid for it directly, it’s paid media. If you didn’t pay another company or individual to run your content, and you earned publicity from that content, that’s earned media. 

Sometimes, the confusion between the two stems from influencer marketing and sponsored content: Are they earned or paid? Influencers who are compensated, as well as sponsored content, which is typically paid, both fall under paid media. 

What Is the Difference Between Paid Media and Shared Media?

The main difference here is that paid media is transactional, while shared media is more organic. Paid media involves direct payment and contracts: You pay another business to run an ad, and they do so according to a contract. Shared media, on the other hand, is never paid and is completely voluntary, relying on the engagement of your community. 

What Is the Difference Between Earned Media and Owned Media?

The main difference between earned media and owned media is that earned media doesn’t come directly from your brand. While you can use press releases and other tactics to gain earned media coverage, the coverage itself comes from a third-party source. Owned media, on the other hand, involves communication channels you directly control. 

What Is the Difference Between Earned Media and Shared Media?

Shared media is a subset of earned media, so the two terms are often confused. However, shared media focuses specifically on user interactions that increase the visibility of your content via social sharing. 

What Is the Difference Between Shared Media and Owned Media?

The biggest difference between shared media and owned media relates to who is distributing the information. Shared media involves content shared by external parties on social platforms, relying on individuals’ voluntary decisions that are outside your control. With owned media, you have complete control over what you say and how you say it, communicating directly to your audience.