Some more thoughts about “pay to play” and media publicity

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A few minutes ago, I reviewed a series of story ideas submitted by a freelance writer. He had originally sought $200 per story but I responded quickly (without reviewing the story ideas) that I couldn’t pay that fee. So he offered to do the work for half price.

Okay, but there was another problem. Everyone of his five story ideas effectively would be a “pr piece” for a business. Each reflected a good and potentially useful story, but each had the effect of creating a positive image/message/reputation for a business.

And immediately I thought: Why am I paying a writer to generate publicity that will be five times as effective for a commercial business as the organization would achieve by purchasing advertising in our publication?

Allowing for the probable use of at least a page of space, which we sell for about $2,000, this means I would be giving $10,000 worth of free publicity to an organization, and paying the writer $100. Not a terribly good deal for me.

But what about the company that would receive the publicity if we accepted the writer’s proposal?

Here, the story is inverted, and it raises some interesting questions for organizations seeking to improve their business/reputation at a relatively low cost.

Say you are a business and you contract with the writer to pitch the story on your behalf. You might even agree to pay him $200 for the pitch, and an additional $300 if the story is written and published.

The writer communicates with as many publications/media outlets as he can, where the story might be relevant and useful. And, after he does, at least one “bites”. For a risk of $200 (assuming that no one buys anything) and a net cost of $500, you’ve achieved $10,000 in free publicity.

This results in some advice that is contradictory to my self-interest, because while the writer would undoubtedly fail to receive placement in our publications, the idea would probably work elsewhere. And it isn’t hard to execute.

How do you find a qualified writer?

A few years ago, I would have been able to give you a simple answer: Check out the Construction Writers Association. But unfortunately that organization has disbanded.

Another approach is to connect directly with a journalist who you’ve seen writing on relevant topics, such as an employee of your local business newspaper/magazine. Most organizations don’t mind if their writers do a bit of freelance writing on the side, and you may have the advantage that they can “place” the story in their own publication as well.

You might want to consider Tess Wittler. She probably won’t be the least expensive writer, but she will undoubtedly do a good job.

Finally, of course, you can just go ahead and contact us for an advertising feature article in one of our publications. We’ll work on the project with you for a fee (though at our advertising rates, not the price of an inexpensive freelancer) and give you guidance on how to place/pitch the story in other media.

For more information on this option, just email me at


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