Pay to play or pay for play: Which road do you go?

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A really early product placement example -- Self-advertising: A German countess holds a copy of the magazine Die Woche in her hands. The photo appeared in 1902 in an issue of Die Woche (from Wikipedia)
A really early product placement example -- Self-advertising: A German countess holds a copy of the magazine Die Woche in her hands. The photo appeared in 1902 in an issue of Die Woche (from Wikipedia)
A really early product placement example — Self-advertising: A German countess holds a copy of the magazine Die Woche in her hands. The photo appeared in 1902 in an issue of Die Woche (from Wikipedia)

Pay per click marketing expert Colin Donohue and I have been communicating about the challenges of effectively managing and advising advertisers on pay-per-click programs. He will help me with some resources to update this blog and my Construction Marketing Idea book’s reporting on this topic, because the rules have recently changed, especially for Facebook.

The cat and mouse game of media manipulation or managed public relations/search engine optimization vs. paid advertising (or social media reach) continues in 2015 in many ways the same as it was in 1935, when public relations agents would seek to plant their clients’ stories in the newspapers and the radio, there were occasional bouts of corruption (Payola), product placement games were played, and where the media would tangle with these options and push back against commercial interests by encouraging paid advertising — unless the celebrity value from the PR side was great enough that the media benefited as much from the publicity as the celebrity.

Today, of course, there is social media, company “pages” and fans — and the recent decision by Facebook to really tune down the reach of company pages — even to purported fans — unless the businesses pay to “boost” their postings.

Colin wrote me in a recent email:

The average is 15% of fans seeing a given page’s post is a rule of thumb. Less engaged fan bases see even fewer. I just advised a national brand with over 3000 followers and their posts were showing to an average of 2% of their fans!

So they were paying someone to post all the time, but they were not monitoring their “reach” so almost nobody (except staff, their families, close friends, etc.) were seeing their posts!

In that case I ended up paying $5 to boost several posts and got them WAY more traffic for $50/mo than their over-posting SMM person got them.

Facebook has totally moved businesses’ cheese. Again, they are the ones that benefit as now you need to post (or spend a lot more on engagement) to get much reach EVEN with your existing “fans”.

facebook chicagoconstructionnews
Our Chicago Construction News Facebook page. Despite frequent updates with fresh content, few people view it because we aren’t ready to pay Facebook to promote the page.

In other words, if you spend a small fortune on social media management to create great fan pages and interest, you won’t get far without paying Facebook extra to boost your posts — and you probably can save all that effort by spending more money on some blatant direct (but natural-looking) advertising to get to the top of the news feed of your target demographic group.

Realistically, there are few exceptions to the rules where you should budget and expect to pay the media for some publicity value. After all, media businesses, whether they be large-scale social media services such as Facebook or Google or niche and speciality businesses such as ours (we publish regional and national architectural, engineering and construction publications in Canada and the U.S.) make our money from advertising and we won’t be around to provide the free editorial content without the revenue.

The exceptions, in my opinion, fall on the narrow and wide scope:

Your existing client base, community, friends, previous clients and network (or your target is so specific that you can reach the potential clients one on one through direct or personal relationship communications.)

In other words, you know the people already or you would find them most easily through human rather than any sort of mass contact.  In these situations, of course, there are plenty of easy-to-manage techniques to maintain communication, such as eletters, social functions, one-one-one business lunches and the like. (You might also pay to “boost” relevant Facebook posts — the costs will be insignificant if your list isn’t that large.)

You’ve achieved/earned celebrity for your achievements.

There’s a reason sports stars can charge endorsement fees for their name — they have reached the stage where the media (and public) may be willing to fall over themselves to gain access. Celebrity status doesn’t need to be universal — it just needs to be within your area of expertise and leadership. I know for example of one general contractor in Ottawa who has won a national (even international) reputation in green building — so his name will garner interest and paid ticket admissions even though he doesn’t need to lift a finger to promote himself.

Of course, it isn’t easy to attain this level of celebrity — you have to build and earn a truly incredible reputation and also manage the public relations and media management skills to a high order. I couldn’t advise anyone to plan for this accomplishment; while it can certainly be done, it gets into the pie-in-the-sky space for anyone offering general construction marketing consulting.

So where should you go? Well, of course, take on the low hanging fruit — develop your repeat and referral business — and certainly understand the basics of SEO and public/communications media skills (because these will be helpful and might ultimately help you achieve celebrity status.

However, to grow, you will have to find some place in the middle where you will need to pay to play — and here, you will need a combination of discipline and probably some trusted consultants who can help you through the minefields and save you from throwing your marketing money down the drain. This stuff isn’t easy, but if you are ready to brave the great new world, you will successfully find your way through the process.

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