PESO explained for marketing and public relations

PESO explained for marketing and public relations

The value of the PESO framework as a planning tool for marketing and public relations, lies in the integration of different forms of media.

Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned (PESO). It’s a mouthful. The abbreviation is used as a shorthand.

Gini Dietrich first described the relationship between different forms of media as four overlapping circles in 2014 in her book Spin Sucks: Communication and Reputation Management in the Digital Age. Its simplicity is compelling.



Dietrich is the founder of the professional development community Spin Sucks and CEO of Chicago based digital marketing agency Arment Dietrich.

"For far too long, PR has been synonymous with [earned] media relations when, in fact, that is just one tactic in our wide and ever-evolving toolbox. The PESO model allows communicators to own each of the four media types - and to start properly communicate from a prospective customer’s very first touch," said Dietrich.

The PESO framework is a product of the fragmentation of media that has played out over the last decade. It has developed as a means to explain modern media as the lines between paid and earned media.

"While the industry, as a whole, has adopted a “sit back and wait’ mentality when it comes to everything but earned media, the communicators who integrate the other three media types will win. The PESO model is the smartest way to activate a public relations campaign today," added Dietrich.

Consumers are consumers; media is media

Public relations has its roots in using earned and owned media as a means of persuasion. But this premise has broken down over the last decade. It’s put public relations on a collision course with marketing.

Paid media is a reality if you want to execute a search marketing (SEO) campaign on a platform such as Bing or Google, or promote content on social networks such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

If you’re looking to engage an influencer to create content as part of an entertainment or consumer campaign you’ll almost certainly need to pay for their time and reach. There’s limited benefit in investing in publishing video content via shared media unless you’re prepared to invest in promotion.

Traditional demarcations between marketing and public relations remain evident within organisational structures. Marketing tends to lead with paid media whereas public relations leads with earned media. However in the terms of execution it’s impossible distinguish the difference between the two disciplines.

Purists insist that public relations should remain unpolluted by paid media fail to recognise a shift in media business models. In my view they also fail to recognise the value and efficiency that these new forms of media provide to engage with audiences or publics.

“The emergence of PESO marked the moment when public relations was given the opportunity to become the lead communication and marketing discipline. It’s now about education so that practitioners and the business community recognise this,” said Sarah Hall.

Hall is an agency owner in the UK, founder of the #FuturePRoof learning and development community, and CIPR President. She's also my partner.

It’s an issue that we’ve debated for several years but her point is well made. Neither the public nor organisational leaders make a distinction between marketing and public relations disciplines. Very few differentiate between media types. Assertive practitioners, whatever their expertise, take the lead within an organisation.

How to apply the PESO framework in practice

PESO is a useful tool for planning how an organisation uses different forms of media to achieve its goals and execute an integrated campaign. It is typically applied as part of a campaign plan as a menu of media with each format aligned to a variety of objectives and outcomes. But that underplays the value of the framework.

At Ketchum we use the PESO framework as a strategic tool to understand the relationship between media and tactics as part of an integrated campaign. Its value lies in optimising the areas of overlap between forms of media and the opportunity for amplification, promotion and third party validation.

PESO enhances the strengths and weaknesses of media types. Here’s a grid that plots the benefits and weakness of each type of media in terms of trust, scale, cost and predictability.


Where one media format leads in its area of strength such as paid for scale, earned for trust or owned for predictability; it can be combined with others to optimise its effectiveness and value.

In the following section I’ve set out each of the different PESO media formats.

Paid media: an investment in distribution of owned assets or creative

Paid media is becoming a mainstream area of public relations practice. Influencers, algorithms and amplification are all compelling reasons for paid integration. Search and social media algorithms are throttled so that organisations have to pay to maximise the reach of content. Practitioners have a high level of control outcomes thanks to planning and predictive analytics.

Examples include print and television advertisements; search keywords; ads and promoted social media content (see shared); and paid influencer content.

Earned: a value exchange of content versus third party validation

This is the traditional domain of public relations. Press releases or stories are pitched to a third party such as an analyst, influencer or journalist who repurpose content for their own audiences. There’s typically a limited level of control over outcomes. Results are highly dependent on creative and the competing news agenda.

Examples include media relations; blogger relations; and organic influencer content.

Shared: pushing content through owned social channels; typically also requires paid

Shared or social forms of media are the networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. They may also be messaging platforms such as iMessenger or WhatsApp. There’s typically a moderate level of control over outcomes but the addition of paid media helps improve effectiveness.

Examples include Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Owned: brand media and community relationships; requires long term investment

This describes any content and channel over which an organisation has complete control. It includes apps, email, marketing communication collateral and websites. If an organisation has invested in building a community with its stakeholders it can be highly effective, and there is a high level of control over outcomes.

Examples include apps, email, podcasts and websites.


PESO framework - Use the four overlapping circles to plan how you’ll execute different types of media as part of your campaign.

Summary: applying PESO in practice

#1 Integrated marketing and public relations

PESO is a framework that is useful for explaining the media landscape. It shows the relationship between different forms of media.

#2 Channel planning

Use the PESO framework as a channel tool. Lead with media that optimises its strength for your campaign. Integrate with other media to optimise for effectiveness and value.

#3 Media investment

The reality of modern integrated campaigns is that paid and earned media might only be a fraction of the overall investment.

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