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We don’t bribe or impersonate journalists. (Sorry.)

We don’t bribe or impersonate journalists. (Sorry.)

How does our team of PR professionals actually make tech companies famous? How do we get them into the news?


Mostly, it’s about creating a pitch (somewhere between a few sentences and maybe 2 or 3 paragraphs). 


A creative story idea pitched to the right reporter at the right time? That can get results… if you do it enough. 


Persistence and a well-targeted media list helps. It’s very much like a sales process where you are confident you’ve got buyers out there - but you have to make that connection. And no matter how confident you are that your idea is perfect for a reporter, they might not bite right away. 


For a PR professional to make their own luck, their effort could involve maybe hundreds or even thousands of interactions with different journalists each month.


I can tell you one thing we’re not doing. 


We don’t pay journalists to write articles that feature our clients.


We certainly don’t write journalists’ articles for them.


And reporters are not attaching their byline to any article we wrote and pretending like they wrote it.


Increasingly, though, I’m getting the sense that business leaders have the wrong idea about how PR professionals get results. 


To be honest, I think this confusion applies even among some marketing professionals.


Public relations people are not journalists. (We talk to them. But we are not them)


I get at least a few inbound queries to Mind Meld PR every week that go something like this (redacted from an actual inbound email):


I am writing on behalf of [COMPANY NAME REDACTED]. We want to feature an article about our business in some global news portals such as Forbes, Business Insider, Bloomberg and so on.


We [DESCRIPTION OF COMPANY REDACTED.]


Could you please guide us on the next steps to initiate the process of being featured in one of your articles? We're eager to explore this opportunity further.


Additionally, we'd like to inquire about your pricing details for featuring an article about our business.


So... yeah, that's not a thing that we do.


And to be perfectly, clear, I’m not admitting to any kind of shortcoming on our part. This is not a thing that any PR agency does.


Let me focus on one part of that query: 


Could you please guide us on the next steps to initiate the process of being featured in one of your articles?


Um, they’re not our articles.


We are not publishers. We are not journalists.


Yes, our PR team gets our clients featured in articles in Forbes, Business Insider, Bloomberg, etc.


We certainly don’t bribe or intimidate reporters into building out a story. All we can do is persuade. 


It’s up to the reporter to decide if the story is a good fit for them and their news outlet’s audience.


Writing the articles is a journalist’s job.


Thought leadership and sponsored content are muddying the marketing waters


We don’t bribe or impersonate journalists. (Sorry.)


Where did this confusion about PR and journalism come from?


My hunch is that the rise of “thought leadership" had something to do with it.


Different PR professionals might think about thought leadership differently. But to me, thought leadership is typically some kind of timely essay, written by an expert (or written with the help of a ghostwriter or editor who interviews the expert. If a CEO or founder or other leader just isn't a writer by profession or habit, it's common practice to get a PR person or marketing writer to turn this leader's unique expertise into an article people would actually read).


A well-written article by a genuine expert who can tie in their ideas into something newsworthy? That’s what a lot of people want. For the executive, it’s a chance to build their brand.


Once the article is written, the thought leader (or their PR or marketing person) can shop the article around to media outlets to see who might want to publish it.


There's even some big outlets where you can pay about USD $3K for an annual subscription that lets tech founders or other experts submit articles on a roughly monthly basis. The thought leadership article still has to go through an editorial review process if it's going to get published. Forbes Council articles are like that, but Fast Company, Entrepreneur magazine and others have similar platforms. 


All well and good.


Here's where the confusion comes in.


Because of these paid alternatives, like Forbes Council, or more traditional advertorial (sponsored content) options, a lot of people have the sense that all journalism is just bought and paid for.


And to be honest, if there was a time to try to push the boundaries of PR vs. Journalism, I could see how some might think now is the right time.


Are advertorials the future of journalism? (I hope not)


Some of the biggest media outlets around (Buzzfeed, Sports Illustrated, Vice, etc.) are shutting their doors. And the ones that remain seem unable to figure out any kind of workable business model. CNN, Business Insider and others are on life support, laying off staff by the hundreds. When I attended a journalism program update at a local community college, the mood was grim: budget cuts and lower enrollment was hitting them and seemingly every journalism program in the country.


So… given the perilous state of journalism, is there an (unethical) opportunity here? Are there some who think they might be able to outright bribe journalists to get featured in a story? I don’t blame them for trying. I mean, it’s ethically terrible. But economically, the logic is sound. Who knows? Maybe in a few years, that will be the path forward. It’s dystopian, sure. But maybe if it’s a choice between 100 percent advertorials and the death of media, it’s an option.


When I first got started in journalism, writing for community newspapers in Winnipeg, advertorials were my bread and butter. Occasionally, I’d get thrown some real journalism assignments, covering city council or maybe some local community event. 


But mostly, my work consisted of interviewing someone at a company or non-profit organization and writing something that looked like a news article, but wasn’t. There was a story there. It was 250 to 400 words, depending on the pricing of it. You could find real quotes in the story. And you’d often see photos of the people involved, which cost a little extra. And these stories would appear on a page within a frame clearly marked “Advertorial” or “Advertisement” or something like that. (Today, advertorials are still very much a thing, though we call it “Sponsored Content.”) 


Advertorials are a type of advertising that’s distinct from the typical half-page or full-page ad. Companies like them because they know it’s going to be a positive feature about them. Depending on the editorial policy at the news organization, the company might even get editorial input, with the ability to view the article prior to publishing. (With a genuine news article, sources do not get to view an article before a reporter clicks publish. That’s absolutely forbidden.) 


Given all these advantages, why don’t companies just throw their whole PR budget at advertorials (or sponsored content)?


It’s about credibility.


The value of earned media coverage vs. sponsored content


People do notice when a story is in a section framed as sponsored content, advertorial or whatever.


And they also notice when a company seems to be getting genuine earned media coverage. That is, a reporter thought they were noteworthy for some reason, so quoted them or maybe even featured them in an article (or radio show, podcast, breakfast TV news show or whatever).


Anyone with enough resources can just buy their way into a newspaper with an advertisement, whether that’s a conventional ad or an advertorial. There’s countless companies that can do that.


But getting featured by a real reporter in a real story? That company must have something special. They must really be experts. That company must be a leader with a reputation. And if you as a consumer are going to buy a product or service, don’t you want to buy it from a reputable leader?


When reporters are talking about you, it shows you’re worth talking about - and maybe buying from.


I’m not saying sponsored content doesn’t have its place in a company’s marketing mix. But earned media coverage - and a lot of it - can often help a company stand out from the competition enough so it gets more customers. More gets more. 


Work with Mind Meld PR and get your brand into the news


Want to get quoted and featured by real journalists in top news outlets? Contact the Mind Meld PR agency today


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