Trylon Communications  - November 2003

Pay For Placement

You have heard the saying, “You can’t buy publicity like this!” Well, some people want you to think you can.

This game has been played for years in some industry trade publications, and is now coming to a media outlet near you – “pay to be heard.” You may have been approached by a salesperson offering you an exclusive opportunity to get your story out to interested parties.

Whether it’s radio, television, print or more exotic media such as in-flight audio, a number of companies now offer pay-for-placement media to corporations. These spots are sometimes thinly disguised as “news stories” with interviews by an “objective” third party reporter. This is another example of the blurring of lines between news and advertising.

Some advocacy groups are taking notice. Commercial Alert, a nonprofit founded by Ralph Nader, has requested that the FCC look into “embedded advertising” on television. A regulation on the books since 1927 requires broadcasters to announce when an ad is an ad, and the group wants this enforced. The FTC has already paid heed on the Internet by requiring disclosure of “pay-for-placement” search engine positioning.

What’s exactly wrong with using “pay-for-placement” as a PR strategy? First of all, canned presentations often look and sound like a bogus infomercial – an obvious ploy that can backfire. The credibility you would gain from a third party news report is sorely lacking when an executive is instead pitched a bunch of leading softball questions.

Second, these placements can be pricey, with “appearances” liable to cost thousands of dollars – money that could be better spent gaining real press recognition.

So the next time you are pitched one of these opportunities, ask yourself such questions as “Does this fit into our communications strategy?” and “Will this engender the type of publicity and image we are seeking?”