Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

Earned Media Vs. Paid Media: Which Makes Most Sense for Your Cannabis Brand?

Each campaign has its pros and cons, depending on what your goals are.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

What exactly is the difference between public relations and advertising? Is one more impactful than the other?

These are the questions asked by executives looking to promote their cannabis brands and businesses. To answer, you first must understand the difference between earned media and paid media, the costs typically associated with each, and the pros and cons.

Related: The 6 Best Digital Advertising Options For Every Type Of Cannabis Brand

The fundamental differences

Public relations and advertising can be broken down into two categories: Earned Media and Paid Media. Earned media is coverage you can't pay for—you earn it. Examples include a cover story in a magazine, an interview on the radio, a TV news story, a podcast, or a Q&A. These opportunities typically happen as a result of pitching, or being approached by the media for your accolades, credentials, and expertise.

Then we have paid media, which is also known as pay to play. Common forms of paid media include Facebook advertising, paying for a full-page ad in a newspaper or magazine, billboard, programmatic, or display advertising. These promotional efforts will typically be hyper-targeted and will consist of a defined start and end date based on what you agree to pay.

Which is better for your business?

The best way to highlight the differences between PR and advertising is to compare the impact each can have on a business.

Advertising pros

  • Builds exposure
  • Placement is guaranteed
  • 100% creative control
  • Mostly visual
  • The audience's takeaway is "Buy this product"

Advertising cons

  • The audience is likely to remain skeptical.
  • Requires greater financial investment

Public Relations pros

  • Builds trust and establishes credibility
  • Third-party validation
  • Not always visual
  • Typically requires smaller financial investment
  • The audience's takeaway: "This is important."

Public Relations cons

  • Media placement is not guaranteed.
  • Media has creative control.

It is impossible to say if one is better than the other. There are pros and cons with each solution, but it is up to you, the business leader, to decide what you're looking to achieve at any given time and whether earned media or paid media will help you get there faster and more effectively.

Why cannabis companies choose to invest in PR

In the current media landscape, paid advertising is still murky, with popular platforms like Facebook and Instagram not allowing cannabis brands access. In the realm of paid advertising or paid media, cannabis companies have shifted towards programmatic and display advertising, billboard advertising, and paid magazine placements to gain quick wins and place more awareness on their products and offerings.

But when a brand is looking to build attention, amplify brand awareness, build trust, and establish credibility, they will almost always consider public relations. Despite lacking total creative control and not knowing exactly when coverage will air or go live, it's the third-party validation that helps boost a brand's trust with the marketplace. It can make reputation-building and management exponentially more impactful with utilizing earned media.

Another positive with earned media is not having to dance around restricted phrases and/or keywords like one is forced to do when utilizing paid media. This allows for a more authentic message and brand narrative to cultivate over time.

All things considered, advertising is an excellent vehicle for asking your audience to buy your product. Public relations is most effective for letting your audience know that what you're promoting is essential. Like Richard Branson once said, "A good publicity story is undoubtedly more effective than a front-page ad."