Do you find yourself asking “What will I get for my money if I hire a PR agency?” You might even see offers for guaranteed media coverage. But should PR agencies guarantee media coverage? The reasons the answer is “no” might surprise you. Any PR agency that promises earned media coverage is putting their journalist contacts at risk for journalistic ethics violations. Guaranteed PR coverage is not only unethical, it can even be illegal. “Guaranteed” PR coverage rarely lives as long as earned media coverage. Finally, it doesn’t have the authority and trust that comes with credible earned media.
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Pay-to-Play Earned Media is Unethical
Sadly, we’ve seen it all, including journalists fired for violating professional journalist ethics. Violations might include not disclosing a monetary relationship or other conflict or interest. Paying a journalist under the table to write about a company or a product is the signal of an inexperienced, desperate, or unethical PR agency. These agencies don’t garner favor by journalists who value their jobs, and getting a journalist fired isn’t the way to reinforce media relationships. And when you hire a PR agency that does this, you’re attaching your brand’s reputation to unethical and even illegal behavior. No matter how cheap guaranteed PR coverage is, the cost to your reputation will far outweigh any benefits.
There is such a thing as legitimate sponsored coverage. And while sponsored coverage LOOKS like an article, it’s actually an advertisement. Secured through a media outlet’s advertising team, never directly with a journalist, sponsored coverage is a legitimate form of advertising. The FCC always requires sponsored coverage to identify itself as paid. Even Google wants to know what links are sponsored, and not tagging them correctly is an SEO risk authoritative and important media outlets won’t risk. Press releases are a great example of paid or sponsored coverage. Paid placements have a role in a campaign, and any good PR agency can make recommendations about how to use these tools in your campaign.
Guaranteed Coverage Isn’t Usually Authoritative
Today’s readers and content consumers are incredibly savvy. After thousands of hours of advertising exposure, most consumers can sniff out the difference between advertising articles and journalistic pieces. Like all advertisements, ethically secured readers’ and viewers’ trust earned coverage because journalists maintain independence.
We’ve seen self-proclaimed PR experts use their positions as media contributors to promote their clients; these same people are banned from esteemed outlets like Entrepreneur and Forbes. Most times, the brands paying for this coverage did not know that what the “PR expert” was doing was unethical or illegal. No one wins in this situation, certainly not the brand that thought they paid a PR firm to secure high-value coverage. This is especially painful because once discovered by the media outlet, that content is often removed from their website and, therefore the internet; this rarely happens with earned media coverage which lasts as long as the website is up.
Sponsored or Paid Coverage Doesn’t Last as Long
While earned media takes strategy, expertise, and, yes, time, ethical sponsored or paid coverage doesn’t last as long as earned coverage. Sponsored and paid coverage, while it has its place, is like any other advertisement: it typically runs for a limited amount of time, and then it disappears. One of the underappreciated perks of earned media is its longevity.
There’s nothing wrong with sponsored or paid coverage. We’ve seen some really remarkable pieces of sponsored coverage that went beyond the advertisement and well into providing true value for readers. The Washington Post, the New York Times, all do spectacular special projects like this. The starting cost is usually in the $50,000+ range. Regular ad rates for a premium location like the (printed) back page hover around $30,000 per ad, volume discounts usually apply to annual contracts. But hey, you’re getting ad placement in one of the world’s most credible news outlets at least once for that price.
The Case for Sponsored or Paid Coverage
Many emerging industries or pre-IPO companies want exposure and they want social proof. The weird thing about exposure is the more you get, the more exposure you’ll get. This is where sponsored coverage comes into play – and it’s essential to understand its role. What you DO with sponsored coverage and how you create the content for sponsored coverage makes all the difference. Working with a modern PR agency can help you distinguish yourself in sponsored or branded coverage and also help you make the most of it. There’s a place for this kind of media in the ecosystem today; it’s important to use it wisely.
Today’s modern PR firms are savvy in today’s media landscape, including traditional, paid, and digital mediums. We take our professional PR ethics very seriously, including guaranteed media coverage. Hire a PR firm you can trust and trust your PR firm.