“Pay To Play” Business Model Growing For Media Outlets

Recently I’ve been having some interesting conversations with people on whether businesses should be paying for content to be published in a media outlet.

And those conversations have been around this idea of what is known in the marketing world as ‘earned media’.

Basically, it’s getting your company name, or something about your company, mentioned in the media free of charge. It has been the standard operating procedure for many, many decades.

Businesses do that in a number of ways. They can put out a press release hoping that a media outlet sees it and decides there is some news value there and then cover it as a story. Businesses can simply have one of their people connect with the media for a story idea, hoping for coverage. And of course, businesses often hire communications/public relations firms to do a combination of those two efforts.

The goal is simple – media coverage at no cost.

Recently, I’ve begun to wonder about this. As a full-time media person for more than 40 years, I have experienced how businesses have used the media over the years to gain free coverage which basically is promotional in nature.

I’m not talking about legitimate news stories here. What I’m pointing to are stories that are not really news at all but just straightforward advertising, dressed up as a news story, for a company. Sometimes these can be confusing from a journalist’s perspective. Is this really news? Is this advertising? It truly is subjective.

But often journalists receive requests that are purely promotional in nature.

There are many reasons why traditional media is on the ropes these days, struggling to survive as revenue continues its precipitous decline.

But perhaps this is one of the reasons – when you give things away for free it creates an expectation out there and a really bad precedent. Why would I pay for something when I could get it for free? That’s what has been imbedded in the minds of businesses as well as communications/public relations firms.

So in a way the media has contributed to its own demise over the years by not holding firm and by giving away its services for free. Which successful company in this day and age does that?

The reality today is that most media don’t have the resources anymore to cover many local events and stories. Many are also seeing the light when it comes to this issue and closing the door on free advertising in the form of ‘news’ stories for businesses.

Media is also increasingly realizing there is money to be made here. That’s why you’re seeing more paid content these days. It has a number of different names – sponsored content, partner content, native advertising, advertorial, etc.

But whatever it is called, the bottom line is this – the pay to play model is increasingly gaining traction in the media world as a source of revenue. It has to be if media is to survive these challenging times.

It’s a reality that businesses today – as well as communications and public relations firms – have to understand and accept.

After all, why should media not reap the benefits of providing a service for others?

(Connect with me if you would like to learn more about how I can help tell your story, share your message and amplify it through different digital platforms)

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