We Must Not Break the Backbone of Public Relations

Susan Matthews Apgood, President & CEO, News Generation

When creating your communication plan, you’re likely thinking about how to incorporate media coverage into your strategy. That’s why it’s so important to talk about “guaranteed” placements versus earned media. Guaranteed placements, native advertising, or sponsored content means advertisement buying. Period. End of story.

While confusion between guaranteed and earned coverage is common, it’s important to understand the differences between the two.

As a firm that specializes strictly in earned media, we believe in building strong relationships with reporters to get your news out there with credibility and value. We believe in providing audiences with the most interesting, issue-driven information, and you shouldn’t have to pay for placement of that kind of content.

The lines are certainly blurring between advertising, marketing, communications, and public relations. There very well may be a place in your strategy for guaranteed placements or sponsored content through media organizations. But earned media coverage is based on the relationship you’ve been able to build with a reporter, and the merit and newsworthiness of the story you’re pitching.

There are many differences between guaranteed and earned placements. The first and most important being that guaranteed placements are ads, where money is exchanged between an organization and a media outlet. Second, earned media placements run as news and public affairs content while guaranteed placements run between newscasts in advertising segments. Earned media runs in the newspaper or online without “sponsored content” written in smaller print above it. Third, earned media hits have much more credibility and monetary value than guaranteed placements. News organizations don’t run stories just because of a “great” relationship. They run stories for two reasons:

1. Because it is great content and a benefit to their audiences.
2. Because they are paid to do so.

Earned media stories are news stories. But if a story would not stand up under the strict news criteria set by reporters, why are people calling it public relations? Why not call it paid media or advertising?

As you’re perhaps deciding between earned and “guaranteed” media, ask yourself: Is my story newsworthy? Will my story help someone make a better decision? If those answers are yes, paying for a guaranteed advertising may be a waste of your money. Instead, pick up the phone and call a reporter or hire a media relations firm to pitch your story, to get the earned coverage it deserves.