Perhaps PR guru and author of Spin Sucks, Gini Dietrich, said it best,

“If you aren’t using the PESO model for your communications work, and measuring meaningful results that help an organization grow, you will not have a job in 10 years.”

Rebekah Iliff, writing on Mashable’s blog, responded, “She’s being nice. I’d say five.”

So why the dire warnings and what is this PESO thing that seems to offer a lifeline to higher ed marketing professionals? It really has to do with how we look at communication channels (or media in the broadest sense); how we break down the traditional (but increasingly irrelevant) silos of marketing, advertising, PR, and digital; and how we demonstrate how we contribute to organizational success through analytics.

Shift from owned, earned, and paid to PESO (paid, earned, shared, and owned)

But I’m getting ahead of myself just a bit. Let’s take a little walk down memory lane. In the traditional view of marketing, media fell into one of three categories: owned, earned, and paid. “Earned”/media coverage was generally the province of the PR folks, “paid”/advertising went to the ad agencies, and “owned”/website/pubs was left to in-house corporate communications (perhaps in tandem with a digital or creative agency). We measured results by column inches, “eyeballs,” and unique visits – none of which had any particular relevance to organizational goals. And none of them took into consideration the power of the social channels to engage and motivate.

Enter PESO. PESO stands for the integration of Paid, Earned, Shared, and Owned media. Here’s how Ms. Dietrich depicts it:

PESO, Spin Sucks

If you’re a long-time marketer, you’ll realize that this diagram represents the acknowledgement of a revolution that happened when we weren’t looking. Some critical things to notice:

  • The spheres intersect and overlap. The silos are gone. It’s all just “marketing.”
  • Some very interesting and important things happen at the intersections of types of media (affiliate marketing, brand ambassadorship, native advertising).
  • MOST IMPORTANT: the center of the new marketing world view is content. Engaging content. Relevant content. Content that moves from “owned” by virtue of sharing, paid distribution, linking, and syndication.

The final important thing to realize is that PESO works as effectively for recruitment marketing as it does for alumni engagement, development, or even influencer marketing.

Using PESO to understand our audiences

PESO demands that we break down the silos, using content as the tool to rebuild marketing communications in a way that reflects the way we all consume information today. Says Joe Rivas of Y&R, “Marketing is undoubtedly becoming content-driven and content opportunities can be overlooked if you’re working in silos. PR, digital, media and social [should] all have equal seats at the table with one mission in mind, to identify and develop the best content possible.” Tracking and testing across the board can give us valuable insights to optimize campaigns – and truly understand our audiences.

Mostly importantly for your job and mine, PESO moves measurement from “intangibles” such as impressions, mentions, and engagement to metrics that are closely tied to institutional objectives such as:

  • Improved yield
  • Shifts in alumni behavior
  • Brand advocacy

Think about shifting your marketing currency to the PESO. It’s the best way to increase the value of marketing across your institution. For a free PESO evaluation of your institution, drop me a note at or call me in our Albany office at 518-591-4640.

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