Pay for play: Not such dirty words any longer. In a time with fewer journalists and a need for content driven by the digital world, the lines between traditional PR (in which you earned coverage by pitching your company’s story to reporters) and marketing (in which you generally pay to reach your audience) hasn’t just blurred. It’s been erased and replaced by a new paradigm – a hybrid that calls on PR’s ability to shape content for paid opportunities that often look a lot like what a journalist would typically produce.
To make sure we’re on the same page, when I use the phrase pay for play, I mean editorial, advertorial and other opportunities that, one way or the other, come with a contract or insertion order and payment to a publication. It can mean:
- Ads that include the opportunity to contribute an article, advertorial or blog
- A single article, series or webinar that features your organization as an expert
- Blog posts or series
- Longer-form content, such as e-Books, that you sponsor and help create
Paid PR placements have their advantages:
You control their content. If you do the writing, you dictate what it says. If the publication does the writing, you approve it. This typically applies even if you’re interviewed for an article as part of your agreement with the publication, which would not often be the case with a typical interview.
You select the timing. As with advertising, you can choose when you want to appear in a publication, so a paid PR placement can be timed to support a product launch, for example.
You can measure their value. An interview or mention in an important publication is great for the credibility it offers your organization and the awareness it builds among your stakeholders. But unless you’re a big company playing in the big time, it’s hard for those opportunities alone to move the needle. If you’re paying for an opportunity, you can include backlinks that improve SEO or get leads that result in new business, which help you measure the value of such placements.
There are a few tricks to getting the most out of your paid opportunities. As with the hybrid nature of the beast, some will sound familiar to those used to dealing with marketing or journalists, while others are unique to the digital world.
Target and focus your opportunities . . . If you’re looking to create awareness or get leads, approach your paid PR placements the same way as advertising. A reasonable frequency of placements in a focused number of publications typically will bring better results. It also helps build relationships, which can lead to more and better opportunities over time.
. . . unless you care more about backlinks and SEO. And today, with digital-only publications and digital editions of most, if not all, print publications, that may well be your primary concern. If that’s the case, you can go for a wider range of publications to maximize the number of links from credible sources. Before you make decisions about your program, though, be sure you check the domain authority of publication websites. Go for the right combination of credibility and audience that suits your needs.
Get the best deal for your money. Negotiate the first price you’re quoted for an opportunity. More to the point, get as many value-adds as you can. Many paid placements come with a package of additional opportunities and promotions. Always ask if the publication can do more; often, they can and will. For example:
- If you’re sponsoring an article, request an ad or advertorial – or both.
- Ask to be included, and prominently, in any e-newsletters or email blasts that promote print and digital editions.
- Request multiple social promotions of your content.
The bottom line is, don’t ever accept the first offer. Get a better price for the placement, or make sure it comes fully loaded – or both.
Grill the publication about the number of leads an opportunity usually generates. Some paid opportunities are focused on lead generation. Product guides and sponsored webinars and e-books for which you provide or contribute to the content are three such examples. If you’re a sponsor, you’ll typically either receive leads from the publication or be given access to a database to download them.
Most publications will give you some idea about the number of leads an opportunity might generate; typically, they offer a range, and no guarantee, of course. But it’s a good way to evaluate the potential of an opportunity. In addition, if the publication’s estimate is significantly off, you may be able to use that as leverage to negotiate a better price or more value-adds the next time around.
Use cost of acquisition as a guideline for placement and measurement of success. Speaking of leads: divide the estimated number of leads by the price you’re paying to figure out the cost of acquisition for them. Do the same with the leads you actually acquire through the placement. Use that number to compare publications and make decisions about those you want to continue to work with. Also use that number to judge how your placements perform against your other lead generation efforts.
Finally, remain vigilant about deadlines, just as you would with a journalist. Publications usually remind you when copy or graphics are due for a paid opportunity. The problem is, they might not do so with the kind of lead time your organization needs. Minding the calendar yourself means you’ll avoid fire drills and maintain your sanity.