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When It’s Pay to Play, It’s Not Publicity!

September 26, 2023

Often when I am talking with SMEs or small to medium enterprises about their publicity, they will often say “oh yes I paid for an ad and got an editorial too.”

So, let’s clear this up once and for all.  


Nowadays most mainstream media outlets are very clear on this, and proper journalists simply cannot be bought (remember the ‘cash for comment’ scandal that engulfed the banks and certain high profile shock-jocks years ago?), yup, that’s just a beginning of why pay to play is problematic.

There is an emerging cohort of ‘publishers’ who position their ‘media’ – their magazine, radio program, internet TV program/YouTube channel  – as genuine media, and offer it as an alternative to the mainstream media outlets.

Nothing wrong with this in theory.  But where it gets rubbery (and misleading in my view) is when these so-called publishers/editors/directors refer to their content as editorial and then charge the business involved to be included in that editorial coverage. 

Oh, they’ll pretty up their offering and the cost as a ‘marketing package’ or ‘co-contribution’ towards their publishing costs but make no mistake – they are charging unsuspecting SMEs for what they call ‘editorial’ but what is really just glamorised advertising. 

And some of what I’ve seen looks very glamorous!  I’m talking cover shots, feature articles, profile pieces, ‘live’ interviews.

So, I say again, IF you are paying to be included in any form of media/magazine/channel IT IS NOT PUBLICITY!  It’s glamorised paid advertising, pure and simple.

I once spoke with an ‘editor’ of these sorts of magazines (which shall remain nameless) and they requested I not disclose that all the content in their magazine was paid for.  The reason? “I don’t want the editorial integrity to be compromised,” is how they responded.

Ummm – here’s a newsflash. If all the content in their magazine is PAID content – including the cover, there IS no editorial integrity!  This is the sort of deception that I am referring to.  And I say again, if you are paying to play it’s NOT editorial. 


Earned media – where the journalist and the news outlet see your story as newsworthy, relevant and of importance to their readers, listeners or viewers – is achieved on merit and merit alone.  

Merit-based editorial is super powerful.  It means you’ve pitched an idea to the journalist about an issue that you help solve or offer a comment on something that’s already in the news cycle and the journalist sees value in what you have to say. The article or interview that follows is exceptionally powerful, and simply CANNOT be bought.


Genuine publicity is powerful for you, your brand and your business. If you do decide to go down the ‘pay-to-play’ path, please be mindful that once word gets out that that’s what you’ve done, that coverage instantly loses any credibility it may have had upon its release.  

True editorial coverage is timeless and can be used in proposals and on websites forever…the same can’t be said for a paid piece – however glamorously it may be dressed up.  

So instead of succumbing to the seduction of ‘editorial’ that requires some sort of payment, look at your business and uncover the genuine news stories that are there. We guarantee you’ll find some!

Reach out to Meet The Press MasterClass to understand more about Pay to Play, and of course, with the publicity landscape.

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