Should you pay to play (the limitations and virtues of paid media publicity)

us media conference
Art and science of pubicity
My guide on media publicity — yes, it is wise to seek out the free stuff, but sometimes it doesn’t hurt to pay

It’s a touchy topic, and one that cuts close to my heart. Just a few minutes, after working for a few months to co-ordinate a paid editorial feature proposal, the contractor’s public relations representative responded:

Unfortunately, the decision has been made to pass on the paid partnership opportunity for now. ?We remain open to any editorial opportunities and would certainly appreciate the chance to be included in any coverage of the greater (name removed)?market. Thank you so much for all the considerations you presented. The consensus was that a paid partnership may be something that (name of company)?will be interested in down the road.

In other words, a brush off, with a slight hope for future business.

My instinctive reaction, perhaps driven by emotion, but more by the hard pragmatism of being someone who has to make his living selling publicity services, is we’ll be courteous and respectful to this business, but I don’t expect we’ll be providing them much if any free publicity going forward. They can get their free press elsewhere, as they pay their PR consultant fees to make it happen.

Of course there’s absolutely nothing with managing things so you can achieve free publicity for your business — it is something I strongly encourage our clients to seek in our competitors’ media. Let them run the free stories and press releases; as long as we make the money.

Over the years, we’ve developed our own rules to deal with the public relations and “free media” business. ?Generally, if someone asks us to promote their self-serving business interests, we’ll invite them to advertise or set up an paid editorial feature. ?We’ll cover industry association activities and genuine non-profit community activities without any financial return.

And, yes, we’ll publish news releases and other content from time to time on our websites and more rarely in our publications, without worrying about the advertising. The decision to do this is at our editor’s discretion — but our editor knows that we are paid only if we earn money from advertising or paid features.

The converse applies, of course. ?One organization committed a reasonable budget for advertising and we have responded with support for their editorial requests and plenty of free extras, as well. We can certainly treat our clients well.

I realize I may be speaking two sides out of the same month. Good media and public communications strategies, and obtaining as much free publicity as possibility, are wise objectives. However, there is merit, in my opinion, in setting aside some money to pay to play, where the media is appropriate and you are confident you will receive respect and value for your investment.

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