Three little words: paid, owned earned

Rosie Baker
By Rosie Baker | 20 February 2015

Three little words. That’s all you need. No, you romantic fool, not “I love you”: “Paid, owned and earned”. They’re the three words everyone needs.

They're not new words. The industry has been banging on about paid, owned and earned for years. Katie Rigg-Smith, when she took over as CEO of Mindshare, reorganised its internal divisions around those three words. That was back in 2013.

Starcom MediaVest's annual Media Futures Report this week forecast that owned and earned channels will grow 3.5 times faster than paid media in the next year.

That trend’s now moved on from being a cyclical change to being “structural”, according to SMG chairman John Sintras, so it’s here to stay.

In the same vein, UM unveiled its repositioning as “the creative connections agency” this week (see news page 4), waving goodbye to its Big Boutique concept and ushering in a new era. A decidedly ‘non-media’ era.

It’s a smart re-imagining of what it needs to be – for its own business, its people and for its clients.

But the most interesting thing about it is the way that UM gets paid.

By removing itself from the commission structure that incentivises media bookings in some channels but not others, CEO Mat Baxter reckons it has removed any of the bias towards those paid channels, freeing the agency up to make better decisions with its clients across paid, owned and earned. It will do ‘connections planning’ not ‘media planning’.

It all comes back to the everlasting rhetoric about blurring boundaries and definitions. What is a media agency? What is a PR agency? What is a content agency? Pigeonholing agencies into categories is nigh on impossible now.

Edelman is a PR agency – but it works more broadly at brand communications. Leo Burnett is traditionally an advertising agency – but it now calls itself a creative company. UM doesn’t define itself as a media agency – it’s a creative connections agency.

There were numerous debates around our own awards judging over just that question: for instance whether a media agency was rightly in the digital category. Can that agency play in this space? And what difference does it make? But, as you’ve seen from the shortlist, there are some surprises.

Partly it’s semantics. Breaking out of those semantic barriers, removing those pigeonholes can free up opportunities, but with that there’s also a challenge. One I hadn’t thought about until listening to a recent podcast.

Having fallen into a podcast phase after following “Serial” at the end of last year (like everyone else on the planet), I’ve started listening to NPR’s newest, “Invisibilia”. A recent topic was the role categories play in behaviour. And it’s big.

While the show actually looked into the importance of categorisation through the story of a bi-gender person – nothing as complex as how we define a media agency in the present day – the message was that categories help everyone make sense of the world.

The blurb for the show reads: “The Power Of Categories examines how categories define us — how, if given a chance, humans will jump into one category or another. People need them, want them. The show looks at what categories provide for us, and you’ll hear about a person caught between categories in a way that will surprise you.”

That human desire to be part of a group or define what they are about is insatiable. We struggle when things aren’t clearly defined. Perhaps we just need some new definitions.

Have something to say on this? Share your views in the comments section below. Or if you have a news story or tip-off, drop me a line at

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