Why the *^!% Not Pay for News Placement?


David Shank, President/CEO, Shank Public Relations Counselors

For the past several days I’ve been reading and participating in a conversation on the LinkedIn Public Relations Professionals group.  The discussion started innocently, but incredulously enough, with this question: “Is it ethical for a public professional to pay to get a story placed?”  Since my professional history has been based on the PRSA Code of Ethics, my first thought – you have to be kidding, what a stupid question.

As the comments flowed like a Hoosier stream during spring rains, I was disturbed by many of the comments: “Sure, why not…our job is to get the story in” or “why not as long as it’s factual” or “it’s the medium’s job to make the ethical decision.”  The comments were countered occasionally by someone saying “if you pay for it it’s advertising and if you don’t it’s PR.”

Many brought a global viewpoint, pointing out differences in international practices, but essentially the message was mixed.

The PRSA Code of Ethics (http://www.prsa.org/AboutPRSA/Ethics), which few in the discussion acknowledged, is explicit – you don’t do it.

I was beginning to tire of the conversation, but it was so fascinating I couldn’t stop — sort of like watching a train wreck or “American Idol.” The comments emphasized getting the ‘story’ placed, but the emphasis should be on the end reader or viewer or listener — do they, will they, trust and believe the information they get?

Our product is not placements but credibility and transparency. If the story is paid, the reader will see through the honesty-scam and not believe it, not trust the news medium and eventually our clients or issue. The philosophy of getting ‘placed’ at any cost is short-sighted, demeans the process and will eventually backfire on the public relations professional, the client/issue and the news medium.

I don’t have a problem with paying for space as long as it’s amply labeled “advertorial.” One doesn’t have to look further in recent professional history than the Atlantic Monthly / Scientology debacle to see how this affects truth and credibility. http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/01/the-scientology-ad/267198/

What do you think?

– David Shank