Does getting editorial coverage mean you should buy an ad?

Sponsored content means more and more media may expect compensation for running an article about your client. That’s why you must set ground rules at the start of a relationship.


For PR pros, it’s pretty common to see advertising and editorial collide.

It’s happening even more with sponsored content, native advertising and using social media promotions to push brand journalism content. Bad communication can lead to unpleasantness when a publication expects something in return for editorial coverage.

Is it fair for a publication to expect—even demand—advertising dollars if they run editorial? Is it appropriate for the media outlet to feel entitled to it? Is a PR pro responsible for the decision?

A few quick thoughts:

• If a publication expects advertising or dollars in exchange for editorial, it is the editor’s job to make that clear from the outset. Don’t be afraid to ask.

• It is standard behavior for all PR pros to assume the content they provide on behalf of a client will be published free of charge, neither side expecting compensation. That is what PR clients pay for, and it benefits publications through free content tailored to their readership. Sponsored content is valuable when the publication running it normally pays freelancers or when its reporters are overwhelmed. It is meant to benefit both sides. While PR pros realize this, remember that journalists may not understand how the new PR works, especially if they come from advertising or are new to the media.

• PR pros must realize that our world has changed. Publications struggle to monetize their business. Advertising steadily drops for all print publications in favor of online visibility. Pay-for-play and sponsored content become more common. Having a candid conversation about it helps you understand the media outlet better and builds a stronger relationship.

• If a publication prints a statement that you should buy advertising because they have run “free editorial” in the past, explain advertising and PR are managed separately, but you would be happy to introduce them by email to the right person in your agency. If you make advertising decisions, let them know that you will be happy to consider them when you have budget dollars to spend on their coverage.

• Understand small community media may not have the same journalism resources and experience as their larger brethren. They may be speaking from frustration related to ad revenue or not understand that PR pros often have nothing to do with advertising decisions.

• Try to understand their perspective. They are supported by advertising dollars. Without them, your editorial opportunities wouldn’t exist. Like you, they are just trying to do their jobs.

• Don’t burn bridges or take it personally! Take the high road and understand THEY may take it personally. We all converse from different perspectives, and good communication is the magic bullet. No matter how they handle the situation, remain professional and explain your reasons.

• Consider it a great time to pick up the phone and build a stronger relationship. Empathize and come up with ways to achieve their goals AND yours, even if it’s only an introduction or making sure they know you consider them when opportunities arise. If you don’t have an advertising budget or the reach is not a good fit, it’s okay to share those details so they realize it is a business decision that has nothing to do with their publication. If you want to advertise but price is in the way, give them a chance to negotiate.

• Make a habit of reminding clients that they might support media who support them. While support should never be expected, PR is a relationship business. Both advertising and editorial are worthy of respect, support and open communication in the pursuit of great results.

Here’s what journalist Cynthia Sassi, president and founder of Sassi Media, says:

From a media/publisher perspective, I can understand the struggle between free and paid promotion. We have to draw the line somewhere if we want to be profitable. But a publication should not be giving free promotion to try to guilt you into buying advertising (“you owe me”). I will promote things for free on my website that (1) are a service to my readers and (2) are a service to wonderful partners like yourself. I definitely wouldn’t take his response personally and please don’t think that all of us media/publication professionals stereotype PR this way.

Do you have insight to add? By all means, post a comment!

Carrie Morgan is a 20-plus year public relations veteran based in Phoenix, specializing in digital PR. A version of this story first appeared on the Rock The Status Quo blog.

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