August 30, 2016
Veteran PR pros can remember a time when there was a clear delineation between paid and earned (unpaid) media opportunities. The two were kept separate with reporters focused solely on editorial content while sales and marketing reps handled advertising. But, as we in the industry know today, those days of separating “church and state” are but a memory. The rise of content marketing and increasing popularity of advertorial articles, coupled with tougher economic times for the news media, has led to a blurring of the lines – to the point where it is sometimes hard to tell if you are reading an earned piece of content or a paid placement.
We are often asked by our clients to help them understand the value of paid vs. earned media. We usually recommend earned over paid when possible, though there are certainly exceptions to that advice. Another good option is a plan that integrates both earned and paid content, such as paying for a white paper to appear on a highly trafficked news website and then leveraging that white paper content to pitch a byline in a trade publication.
A related situation that we find ourselves navigating more frequently is the effect that a paid relationship with a media outlet will have on our clients’ abilities to secure earned coverage. More and more reporters are taking on a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” mentality. Many have been tasked by their publishers to assist with revenue generation, and the best leverage they have is to offer (subtly, or not) better chances at earned media placement for those organizations that also have secured paid relationships with their publications.
Now, the point of this blog post is not to bash the media for this practice. Times are tough and their industry is in decline. The point I’d like to get across is, like it or not, this is a new reality, and companies that used to rely solely on earned media for publicity should be willing to open themselves up to the idea of paid partnerships as well. If approached correctly, this kind of relationship can be mutually beneficial for all.