For public relations professionals, it’s pretty common to have the advertising and editorial sides of the fence collide.

It’s happening even more now with the onset of sponsored content, native advertising and using social media promotions to push brand journalism content.

There is a time and a place for everything, however, and a lack of communication can lead to some unpleasant results when a publication expects something in return for editorial coverage.

Is it fair for a publication to expect – even demand – advertising dollars if they run editorial?

Is it appropriate for the media outlet to feel they are entitled to it?

Is a PR professional responsible for the decision?

Here are a few quick thoughts…

  • If a publication expects advertising or dollars in exchange for editorial, it is their responsibility to make that clear from the outset – but don’t be afraid to ask.
  • It is typical behavior for ALL public relations professionals to assume the content they provide on behalf of a client will be published free of charge, with neither side expecting compensation. That is what PR clients are paying for and it benefits publications through free content that is tailored to their readership – very valuable when they normally pay freelancers or have overwhelmed reporting staff. It is meant to benefit both sides. While we realize this, remember that journalists may not understand how PR works – especially if they come from an advertising background or are new to the media world.
  • PR professionals should realize that our world is shifting and publications are struggling to monetize their business more than ever before. Advertising is steadily dropping for all print publications in favor of online visibility. Pay-for-play and sponsored content are becoming more common. Having an open conversation about it helps you understand the media outlet better and builds a stronger relationship.
  • If a publication throws out a blanket statement that you should buy advertising because they have run “free editorial” in the past, politely explain advertising and PR are managed separately, but you would be happy to do an email introduction to the right person. If you are the one who makes advertising decisions, politely let them know that you will be happy to consider them the next time you have budget dollars to spend focused on their coverage area.
  • Understand small community media may not have the same journalism resources and experience as their larger brethren. They may easily be speaking from frustration related to ad revenue, and/or not understand that PR professionals often have nothing to do with advertising decisions.
  • Try to understand their perspective. They are supported by advertising dollars, otherwise the editorial opportunities wouldn’t exist. Like you, they are just trying to do the best job possible.
  • Don’t burn bridges or take it personally! Take the high road and understand THEY may be taking it personally. We all come into a conversation from different perspectives and expectations, and good communication is the magic bullet. No matter how they are handling the situation, remain professional and politely explain your reasoning.
  • Consider it a great time to pick up the phone and build a stronger relationship. You can empathize and come up with ways to help them achieve their goals AND yours, even if it is a simple introduction or making sure they know you consider them when opportunities arise. If you don’t have an advertising budget or the reach is not a good fit, it’s okay to tactfully share those details so they realize it is a business decision that has nothing to do with their publication. If you want to advertise but a price issue is in the way, give them a chance to negotiate before ruling it out.
  • Make a habit of reminding clients occasionally that they might consider supporting media who support them in return. While it should never be an expectation, this is a relationship business. Both advertising and editorial are worthy of respect, support and open communication in the pursuit of great results.

“From a media/publisher perspective, I can understand the struggle between free and paid promotion. We have to draw the line somewhere if we want to be profitable. But a publication should not be giving free promotion to try to guilt you into buying advertising (“you owe me”). I will promote things for free on my website that (1) are a service to my readers and (2) are a service to wonderful partners like yourself. I definitely wouldn’t take his response personal and please don’t think that all of us media/publication professionals stereotype PR this way.” ~ @cynthiasassi

Do you have insight to add? By all means, post a comment!