Gail M. Smith
Like most of you, I’m besieged by public relations (PR) agencies calling or writing pitching a story or a product. The majority of time there is a corporation behind the request. The ask will come something like this. “We’d like to see if you would like to pick up a story or interview xx from x corporation about a new initiative by x corporation that will benefit all Latinos”.
This request is very compelling, because how could you say no when it will benefit all Latinos? However, what is really happening here is x corporation is paying a public relations office to enhance its reputation. That is the definition of “earned media”. The corporation is paying the agency to get “free publicity” via the “earned media” proposal. Reputation is the biggest asset any corporation has, and it is us in the media publishing industry that can make or break a reputation.
Using a PR agency to get “earned media” is the cheap way for a corporation to get vast amounts of exposure about whatever good initiative or new product they have launched. If a corporation pays a PR agency for example $10,000 and they in turn get 200 outlets to publish the story for free, the $10,000 turns into tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in free publicity value. And what did the publishers get? Zero or maybe a box of product. And I don’t know about you, but I have not been able to get any of my reporters to work for a box of product.
So, my question is, if PR agencies are getting paid by the corporation to pitch their reputational initiatives, why are we not getting paid if, after all, we are the ones that will ultimately enhance their reputations? This is not a win-win situation for publishers. It’s a win-win for the PR agencies and for the corporations.
Things are getting worse. Last week I got a call from a corporation pitching a story about a great initiative that they are launching to help Latinos. So now, corporations are reaching out directly. Why? Because it has worked for them. Some now, are by-passing PR agencies. I find it very interesting that most corporations find great value in pitching their “earned media” initiatives to us but not valuable enough to spend their marketing dollars. This will continue as long as we continue to give them free publicity.
How do I handle these requests? When approached, I sent them a rate card with our rates for publishing and a note saying we don’t provide free corporate publicity to anyone. That’s what general market publications do.
If we as publishers continue to accept these PR requests for earned media, we are shooting ourselves in the foot. Think about it; it’s a lot cheaper for a corporation to pay a PR agency than it is to buy space on many publications. As long as we allow this to continue the advertising revenue that could come to us will go to the PR agency.
I urge all publishers to stop giving their most valuable asset away for free.