For brands looking for easy publicity, guaranteed media placements seem too good to be true…but that’s because they are. Perpetuating an unethical media trend, publicity brokers acting as PR specialists are making immoral (and possibly illegal) promises to their clients through the form of pay-per-placement and guaranteed placement models. These models produce limited results, commoditize media relationships and compromise the character of an entire industry.
Pay-Per-Placement And Guaranteed Placement Models…And Why They Won’t Work
Publicity brokers use the pay-per-placement and guaranteed placements models by promising their clients a specific media hit for a pre-determined amount of money. These performance-based cost models can produce faster results than retainer or hourly cost models, but those results will be short-lived and unreliable.
In a response from the Public Relations Society of America to a Wall Street Journal article discussing pay-per-placement practices, former PRSA Chairwomen Rhoda Weiss said that working with PR professionals was about “more than being in the media. When you work with a [full-service] public relations firm, they will develop communication strategy.” Many firms that use pay-per-placement and guaranteed placement solely pitch stories to media counterparts and do not build on the many other facets of a meaningful campaign.
A PRWeek article points out yet another risk of these unethical models: “One danger of paid placement is that the listener may tune out segments…that no longer bear the marks of legitimate news.” The same article goes on to explain the danger of ambiguously mixing paid and earned placements: “Trust is the foundation of any good business, and it is certainly the bedrock of the work that we do. Weakening of this foundation by anyone in the industry will result in the degradation of the overall standards in the PR industry.”
The Dangers Of Payola
When a brand or PR representative pays a rogue news media contributor to publish content under the guise that it is earned media, they are engaged in payola. Pay-per-placement and guaranteed placement agencies are much more likely to engage in payola since they are promising media hits to their clients, and this opens up a world of ethical issues and potential illegality.
Payola in news media is a troubling trend and, according to Flackable founder and president Brian Hart, it threatens public trust in journalism and brand communication alike: “Just as payola in the recording industry cheated listeners, online readers are cheated by biased coverage, inaccurate product reviews and hollow endorsements that deceptively imitate objective reporting,” says Hart in a recent PRWeek article.
Publicity brokers engaged in these models undermine the integrity of an entire profession and muddy the market, positioning themselves against PR agencies using ethical practices. Brands should be aware of these distinctions and partner with agencies that have honest reputations over those dangling suspicious deals.
Emma Ford is a public relations associate at Flackable, a national, full-service public relations agency headquartered in Philadelphia. To learn more about Flackable, please visit www.flackable.com.