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.

Rotman Commerce Marketing Association

Recently, I had the privilege of sitting on the other side of the pitch table and evaluating University of Toronto Rotman Commerce students who were presenting marketing ideas for a fictional product. The product this time was an allegedly carcinogenic, 1989 cell phone.

Brand Blitz is an annual marketing exercise for these young business students to learn about advertising and communications. It’s also an opportunity for them to learn about giving presentations.

This is my third time judging their work and the ability of these students to take limited information and experience and turn it into good ideas continues to impress me. After viewing the creative and well-delivered presentations, I liked, for the most part, that they defined stakeholders and used a decent mix of marketing to solve the fictional problem of the cancer-causing cell phone.

However, I was surprised that none of the three teams included public relations, which is critical for managing issues. So I asked, “Do they teach you PR in your marketing programs?” Unfortunately the answer was “no.”

Which means it’s time to augment the undergrad curriculum at Rotman. After all, the company that tries to manage its way out of an issue or crisis without PR is a company that’s failing. As most everyone knows, a brand without third-party support is a brand is in trouble.