Fine Line Between Earned and Paid Media

I read a smart post by Dave Fleet about “Why Paying Bloggers For Posts Changes the Game.”  He basically says that paying for the post turns it into paid media, also known as advertising. And if the media, or coverage, is paid for then perhaps the advertiser influences the content.

This paid content emerges as something different from what we see in mainstream media. Newspapers and broadcasters typically aren’t paid by brands to cover anything. Journalists share the facts and editorialize based on research that’s ideally not influenced directly by payment from advertisers.

However, as I stated in another post here, “Some might argue that print and broadcast media outlets are indeed influenced by advertisers, especially these days due to declining revenue.” It’s hard to imagine that mainstream media doesn’t at times treat big brands buying millions of ads more favourably.

Jumping to the comments section of Dave’s post, one commenter asks, “Isn’t the mere acceptance of so many ‘freebies’/products/trips/event tickets/ etc., etc., tantamount to accepting cash?” She refers to PRs sending products to reporters for them to review. I don’t think it’s the same as accepting cash because the journalist is obliged to provide an honest and fair review after getting the so-called freebie. They can’t write about it if they don’t experience it first.

Another POV comes from Jen Maier who runs the UrbanMoms blog network. She argues here that networks should operate like mainstream media and pay bloggers for their writing. The advertisers and sponsors pay to be part of this influential network (one million plus views per month) for the same reason an advertiser appears in the Globe and Mail: the brand wants to be seen and appreciated by its many readers.

Perhaps comparing a vast blog network to a standalone blog is like comparing apples to oranges since the writer in the blog network isn’t paid directly by the advertiser.

So what does this mean for PR and earned media? Fewer bloggers to pitch based solely on the merit of the story, for one thing. It also means that the lines are blurring between paid and earned media, between church and state. There’s a finer line now between editorial and advertising that needs consideration by all parties: bloggers, brands, agencies.

So as always, PR pros need to know whom they’re pitching. They also need to understand the shifting nuances of earned vs. paid media.

Mass Media Still Massively Infleuntial

When I first saw General Motor’s CEO, Ed Whitacre on a TV ad saying GM had paid back the government loans five years early I thought “damn, that’s impressive.” Apparently a lot of other consumers also liked what they saw, according to polling firms.

But wait a minute, it turns out that these GM ads were lies or exaggerations according to several US Republicans and Steven Rattner, the former head of President Barrack Obama’s automotive task force. GM is in fact paying back the loan with bailout money that it received from the federal government in the first place.

So as editors and politicians comment on the inaccuracies of the GM ad, the beleaguered car maker enjoys a slight lift in public perception. Why? Because a mass media ad campaign still influences opinion.

Typically PR/earned media drives reputation repair. Skeptical consumers usually distrust ads from big, bad companies emerging from recent crises. Therefore nice things said by journalists and other third-parties are needed to change perception.

So how is it that the GM ads have improved public perception? Do Americans have a pent up desire for good news after so much bad news from this iconic brand? Is it wishful thinking in hopes of lower unemployment?

Could be, but what’s more likely is that the mainstream media ads featuring an earnest Mr Whitacre persuaded people to believe that GM had improved. Which perhaps isn’t far from the truth since it’s hard to go lower than bankruptcy.

So when pollsters asked consumers about the ads, a small majority said the company is making progress. Which is a victory for GM. It just needs to also focus on what’s good about the brand, sell more cars and generate some good news. Otherwise this perceived success might be seen as a credibility issue.