What does pay for play mean?
Before blogs and PR reps began working together full-time, PR reps worked mainly with journalists. They worked diligently to build relationships with journalists and generate media coverage for their clients without paying for it. This is also called “earned media” because they earned it with their relationship building – as opposed to “paid media” where they might purchase an advertorial in a magazine.
Robert Frause, APR, Fellow PRSA (Public Relations Society of America), who chairs the Board of Ethics and Professional Standards (BEPS), defines the term pay for play as:
When professionals make undisclosed payments to journalists or media companies to publish or broadcast a client’s story, or when professionals allow placement of stories that appear to be earned media where compensation was provided in exchange for publication or broadcast.
In other words, it is not viewed as ethical for PR reps to pay for editorial coverage. For example, Polly PR rep cannot pay Jacky Journalist $50 to write about Polly’s client who just built a children’s hospital. She must get Jacky interested in the story and if Jacky wants to cover it and considers it newsworthy, she does.
How does pay for play relate to blogging?
Bloggers want to get paid to cover stories presented to them. When they are presented with a press release and respond with their rates for publishing it, miscommunication might happen.
Nikki Stephan, of Identity Marketing and PR, said reps are seeing an increase in the request for compensation from bloggers and not all reps/companies want to engage in paid media. “Some companies will refuse to pay a blogger for coverage or advertising. Others will look it at as just a new advertising opportunity on a different platform,” she said. “But the bottom line is this: Any PR pro engaging in a paid sponsorship relationship on behalf of a company MUST make sure that relationship is disclosed.”
Don’t we deserve to be paid?
Yes, bloggers, you do! As a blogger, you do so much more than just write a 500-word post – you spread the news about that company on your twitter, facebook, and other social media channels. You might even talk about that company on your online forums. All of that is word-of-mouth marketing and valuable to brands.
That being said, there is still a higher value placed on earned media. When looking at two posts – one that has a disclosure of payment at the end and one that does not – which one will your gut reaction be to believe more? Intrinsically, we put more faith in something someone wrote without compensation. Brands and reps used to work with print professionals understand this.
Kelby Carr – CEO and founder of Type A Parent Conference – said the social media marketing that PR reps request is where it goes from earned to paid media and money should follow.
Where I get concerned is when those pitches cross over into paid media and marketing without the accompanying pay. For example, asking for a review plus a contest, asking for content plus insisting on tweets, Facebook shares and so on. When it is required to do marketing, to include a widget or a badge, to write certain things or it is required to use certain links (or link at all), that is no longer earned media. The term pay for play does not apply here. They are not paying for play, they are paying for advertising, marketing, ambassadorships/spokespeople, and so on.
What a rep means when they use that term:
They want you to read their press release and write whatever interests you from it. They might suggest a certain angle or even say, “this would be great shared with your Twitter followers, wouldn’t it?” but they only want unbiased, editorial coverage. If their press release is a perfect fit for your readers, or it interests you, then write it! But if you ask for payment from a rep seeking editorial coverage, be prepared to be turned down.
What should a blogger do if he/she receives a reply with pay for play in the e-mail?
As odd-sounding, frustrating or confusing as this term might be for you, do not be offended by it. Nikki Stephan has some wonderful tips:
Bloggers should be very upfront with PR pros about the different types of promotion/coverage they are willing to give to companies. I love when bloggers clearly state this in a section on their blog. It’s so helpful from a PR perspective. And I think PR pros need to be open to the idea of different types of promotion through bloggers. I know several bloggers who will respond to a PR pro by saying that the topic isn’t relevant for an entire blog post, but they are happy to promote the company/product/service through social media channels.
There will always be that one PR rep who doesn’t quite understand the value of paying bloggers for their marketing. Be kind and communicate to them why advertising with you will help their client; don’t be upset if they turn you down. Above all, if you read this term in an e-mail, tell them other times you worked with companies and how it was a marketing campaign and fully disclosed.
I hope this cleared up some confusion about the term. Have you ever heard it? Did this post help you understand where they are coming from?