Pay-To-Play Mediaia

How The Rise of Pay-to-Play Media Impacts the PESO Media Model

Scott Dieckgraefe Insight

The media landscape continues to evolve at a breath-taking pace, with media platforms providing new opportunities for brands to reach and engage their audiences. While this is true for both B2C and B2B marketers, this Insight looks at the growth of pay-to-play media through the eyes of a B2B audience.

The traditional PESO (Paid, Earned, Shared/Social, Owned) media model helps to define the elements of a marketing communications program according to how the media is secured –

Paid Media: This represents purchased advertising, including traditional to digital media. The buyer/brand controls the message, as well as when and where the message is delivered.

Earned Media: This is non-paid advertising, including public relations activities, organic media coverage, customer testimonials, and word-of-mouth promotion. The brand loses some control over the messaging and placement of the content but benefits from the implied endorsement from the messaging source. Such sources include trade and consumer news outlets.

Shared/Social Media: This includes social networks and online communities. Shared media also includes any form of content that can be shared by others, including blogs, articles, videos, infographics, etc. Control falls somewhere between that of Paid and Earned Media.

Owned Media: These are properties controlled and placed by the brand, including the brand’s own website, blogs, newsletters, whitepapers, eBooks, etc. While control is high, audience numbers are typically the smallest of the four types.

Pay-to-play media suggests that brands pay for their content to gain visibility, blurring the lines between the PESO elements in many ways. Once derided as an afront to journalistic integrity, pay-to-play today is a quid-pro-quo way to support trade media and its role in keeping the markets informed about new products and services. Pay-to-play has grown primarily through the monetization of social media, yet it crosses into other PESO areas, further blurring lines that we only recently defined.

Here are the top ways the PESO definitions are being blurred by pay-to-play efforts –

  1. While social media began as organic sharing platforms, algorithm changes now essentially force brands to pay for their content to be seen by their audiences.
  2. Pay-to-play impacts owned media, as brands may consider investing in paid strategies to amplify the reach of their own content. For example, a brand may write a blog post for their website (owned media) and then pay to sponsor the content or boosted posts on social media platforms to increase visibility and targeting. Also, earned media placements can be used as owned media content, such as posting links on your website to positive coverage in the trade press.
  3. Influencer marketing is a form of pay-to-play content generation/distribution that has grown exponentially for B2B brands, while defying categorization into a single PESO area. Brands pay to leverage the targeted reach and trust provided by influencers who have curated their own audiences.
  4. Many pay-to-play tactics offer the side benefit of exposing brands to trade journal editors, helping develop and solidify relationships that can be turned into future earned media opportunities. These earned media opportunities are often the most credible component of the PESO model.

The key to success in today’s media environment is to strike a
balance within the PESO model, leveraging the power of paid media
while earning credibility through quality content and engagement.

The rise of pay-to-play media underscores the need for businesses to remain flexible with their communication strategy. As the lines within the traditional PESO model blur, brands should continually reassess their communication strategies, ensuring they’re capitalizing on the strengths of each form of media while staying aligned with the evolving dynamics of the media landscape.

A brand’s communications success lies in understanding how to stitch together and deliver content to create a tapestry of brand messaging that resonates with the brand’s unique target prospects. While pay-to-play media may be difficult to cleanly categorize, it deserves consideration from most brands.

PS – The impact of the pay-to-play growth on the PESO model also holds implications for how brands measure success, but that’s a topic for a future Insight article.

Studio/D is a full-service marketing communications firm working with mid-market industrial and manufacturing clients, together with companies that support the manufacturing ecosystem. We’re a team of “makers” who simplify complex communication challenges with messaging that engages and drives results. Learn more about us at, or call our president, Scott Dieckgraefe at 314-200-2630.