Many advertising and public relations consultants will tell you that getting editorial content written about your product will produce a far better response rate than advertising.  Some business managers even say editorials and consumer reviews build a business, and advertising maintains the business. How effective is editorial content versus advertising?  And is it really free?
Consumers trust editorials and consumers trust other consumers’ opinions and reviews, whereas, consumers mistrust advertising. It’s a learned response based upon experience. Kids believe in commercials and packaging. My daughter believed that if she ate a Gushers fruit snack, her head would explode temporarily into the fruit whose flavor was in the snack. Somewhere between early childhood and adulthood, we learn advertising and sales people don’t tell the truth and they will say anything to get a prospect to buy. While not always true, we’ve all experienced it enough to be skeptical of advertising.

Editorial content can come in different forms. Companies can get journalists to write stories about the product, bloggers to review the product or perform an interview, radio personalities to try the product and talk about it on the air, celebrities to endorse the product, and customers to provide testimonials.

Companies such as Yelp and Amazon get customers to review products and aggregate the opinion of the crowd together for a rating, which is as close as you can get to a trusted, word of mouth referral.  The more reviews, the greater the social proof.  For authors, the number of reviews is considered one of the most important driving forces for sales.  Interestingly, studies have shown that the typical online review is 4.5 out of 5.

In my recent life, I managed the advertising, marketing, and sales effort for a consumer start-up.  The company engaged in radio, television, newspaper, outdoor advertising, business co-marketing, and Internet advertising.

For radio, our strategy was to use local radio personalities. They would use the products and provide their opinions on the air.  Hiring a local advertising agency was critical to getting personalities to agree to at least consider the product. Dealing with the personalities is a lot harder than it sounds. Some were a pleasure to know and work with, others were tempermental divas. Months of lead time needed to be incorporated into the advertising schedule. First, the agency needed to approach and find willing personalities. Some personalities were interested immediately; others had to be weaned for 6 months. Second, the company wanted to interview each personality and educate them about the products and services, and likewise, the personality wanted to interview the company and meet everyone they’d be working with. Finally, we had to get worked into the personality’s schedule. While all of the set-up activity was going on, the company needed to advertise and general commercials were broadcast in the interim.

Commercials with personalities talking about their experiences with our product resulted in four times as many leads as the general commercials on the same stations.

Consumers’ perceptions and responses to advertising are no different between the traditional media and the new digital versions.  The expression, “The more the world changes, the more the world stays the same” holds true.

Consumers mistrust advertising because it is paid for. Editorial content is trusted because it believed to not be paid for. This is a common misconception. It’s just an indirect payment.  While the personalities were not paid, they weren’t free either. The startup had to agree to a minimum amount of advertising on the stations and this indirectly affects how much the radio station pays the personalities. The start-up had to provide both our products and services to the personality for free, and since the company also offered a service, we had to pay the labor costs of the employee to work with the personality. An advertising agency had to be contracted to engage the personalities and handle the media buys. Even the crowd opinion is not necessarily free. When Yelp enters a local market, they need to build up a large database of reviews quickly in order for users to see their service as valuable and therefore, Yelp initially pays reviewers in new markets.  From the company’s perspective, there is always an expense associated with promoting a product or service.

About the Author
Cynthia Kocialski is the founder of three tech start-ups companies. In the past 15 years, she has been involved in dozens of start-ups. Cynthia writes the Start-up Entrepreneurs’ Blog ( and has written the book, “Startup From The Ground Up – Practical Insights for Entrepreneurs, How to Go from an Idea to New Business” (