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  • Writer's picturedcharold

Be careful what you pay for

The pitch says: "REDACTED is a content marketing platform that lets brands tell stories and connect with the REDACTED audience on Here we'll share ideas related to business, leadership and marketing."

Anyone who has been around marketing for any time reads: "Hey! It's an advertorial." For two decades I operated under a firm No Advertorials policy. Lately I've been wondering if that sort of attitude can persist, as my own boundaries have become increasingly porous.

Several years ago, I realised (ok, we all did) that owned content could sometimes be significantly more effective (and measurable) than public relations. Okay, we might not hit the same levels of readership as the best of the trades, but when you factored in the increased quality of our 'followers', and our ability to focus its promotion on very specific audiences, our own content was doing a better job than our media placements.

I hired a journalist. We set an editorial bar that we agreed matched the independent media. And away we went. Before long the content we published was generating requests for guest articles in the media. Great - we'd give a period of exclusivity but eventually the content would come home to our website.

But then the requests to pay to place our content began. At first, I classed them with the spurious awards and Top 100 publications. But before long I noticed that the 'quality' of the requesting brands was getting significantly more prestigious. Today you can pay to have your content on the US' leading popular business site, or in the UK's leading economics or business press. Newspapers grow fat with paid supplements.

If you recognise whose pitch I've redacted above you probably know that their advertorial content does have the rather small disclaimer 'Paid Program' at the masthead. But wait? Did the author pay? Did the publication pay the author? What am I being told here? The content is inserted into the regular flow of content on the site. It's easy to think it was 'earned'.

So, am I just an old fuddy duddy? The fact is today of course I’m happy to pay to deliver content via digital marketing, search and other channels. I do site sponsorship, white paper downloads and paid social. Should I just get over the idea that there is something wrong with paying to place something that looks and feels like independent editorial content? The instinctive feeling that it devalues the extensive earned media placement I work to get? Should I give up my No Pay For Editorial rule?

As a gamer I run a mile from games with loot box mechanics. I guess I still feel the same about the media. For now.


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