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Why PR Is Like Porn: What Public Relations Agencies Don’t Like to Admit

During my University years – I studied communication for 5 years – I was offered an internship in the United States which I gladly accepted. It was during this period that I met James. James is the typical entrepreneur you would meet in the US, with lots of ideas about everything and with millions of easy ways to get rich. His creativity didn’t have limits and, he looked like anything he would touch would generate profit (just like in the Kind Midad legend but using money instead of gold).

entrepreneur

He told us an idea about a porn business that he later on developed. The idea was really simple: he would attend any convention and events related to the porn industry to meet actresses still not well-known. From there, he would make a website using their screen name as a domain (one note on here: we are talking about the early 2000ish on here, at that time ranking on top positions in Google is was as easy as using the targeted keyword as domain). If one day such actress would ever become famous, the website he built on her behalf would possibly show on position number one in Google results when people would search her name.

We laughed a lot about this when he told us, but he went ahead anyway and start building his idea. A few months after he was making about $10,000 per month (that it was a considerable amount for schoolboys in early 2000)  and hanging out with the prettiest girls I had ever seen at that time. I, instead, was surviving teaching Italian for $10 an hour and hanging out with medium to low looking girls. He would dine in the most expensive restaurants, while me, instead, dining in the cheapest fast food.

Money-maker

I noticed that when guys would look into the eyes of the girls he was hanging out with, they would vanish for a few seconds forgetting who they were or what was asked to them. Instead, when they would look into the eyes of the girl I was with they would just hope she would vanish soon and forgetting what was asking to them just because they were too busy to give her any attention.

One day James asked me that terrible question I was hoping never to hear: “why we don’t partner? There is a hell of money in this industry.”  My answer was: “well it’s illegal to pay someone for sex and that’s unethical”. So he replied: “it is a completely legitimate industry and it’s not unethical if you pay someone else for doing it.”. That conversation ended there. He later on opened up satellite channel and a few years later tired of looking into naked girls went to a completely different industry franchising a Taco Bell. We are still friends ‘till now, although sadly, the conversations never go forward a “how are you?” and “how things are going?”.

Return-Reality

Now, a few days ago I received the call from a client that needed publicity services. She was like “why I can’t just pay a journalist for getting a placement?” and I patiently told to her that would be unethical. I added: “there is a line in between earned media coverage and paid media coverage also called sponsored or branded. As for the first type, you can’t pay a journalist.”

She asked me what she could do to earn media coverage, and I told her that the best way to do it was by hiring a PR agency. I soon realized this to be very similar to the same answer James has given me quite a few years back (well the “quite” is no literal, as we are talking about 17 years back).

You can’t pay someone for having sex with you, although you can pay an agency for doing on cam; this is the principle that lies behind porn. Similarly, you can’t pay a journalist for writing an organic story about you (that would be unethical), although you can pay a PR firm for getting the job done “ethically”.

 

The Thin Red Line

Earned_paid_Media-CoverageContinuing with analogies, the thin red line concept well explains this apparent contradiction. To be said that this “contradiction” applies not only specifically to digital PR, but more in general to the whole digital marketing industry. An example of this can be found on Google policies. If you gain links from a well-known and credible publication – such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc, etc. – it is likely that Google would price you, making your site appearing on higher search result positions. That happens because, of course, media coverage is a good thing and a journalist that would mention your brand is indeed adding credibility to it. Going to the analogic world, If many people talk about you, you would become “popular”; in the same way on the internet authority sites mentioning your brand make your site more authoritative in Google’s eyes. However, if Google detects that you have actually bought these links – or mentions – you would get strongly penalized instead of getting priced.

 

Just like porn studios, PR agencies have the high power of making things legit. If you outreach journalists, bloggers or influencers asking for placements you won’t reach your goal, and instead, increase your risks of getting penalized. You could incur into a Google penalization – as discussed earlier – or even getting your domain penalized for doing spam. It is also extremely unlikely that any famous journalist would accept your offer because, again, this is considered highly unethical. But if instead, you hire a PR agency for doing this you will get the job done and more importantly, ethically. That is because “normally” PR agencies leverage their existing relations for providing you media coverage instead of involving any form of payment.

There is then a very thin line between earned coverage and sponsored coverage with the first one being extremely more valuable in terms of SEO and credibility. To clarify any possible confusion among these different types of media coverage we have dedicated a full article in our publicity guide discussing in details the difference among them.

Besides the already discussed difference in between organic coverage and sponsored coverage, there is another type of coverage even though his last known. That is the owned coverage, that refers to”Owned media is content you’re in full control of. Think of content for your company website, your blog, and your social media accounts. While owned media content can take on a variety of forms — blog posts, case studies, whitepapers, etc. — the primary goal of this content is to continue providing value to leads as they move down the funnel. These assets offer a more controlled — but not overly promotional — message about your company.” Source

To summarize we can say that earned or gained media exposure is that type of exposure generated without your control. If you are a blogger and you like this article, it is very likely that you will mention it in one of your posts, or if you are a journalist and you like this article it is likely you going to talk about it in one of your opinion pieces or news article.

Paid media – also called sponsored or branded – is everything you are fully in control of, and likely you have paid for making that happens.

Owned media exposure refers to any kind of advertorial generated through your own network.

Channels like Facebook, Instagram, and all the other types of social media can be paid media if you are using any of their promotional tools, but at the same time, they can also be referred as earned media if influencers organically and naturally mention your brand.

Although earned media have a much stronger impact in terms of visibility, credibility, and authority, we do suggest to use a combination of the three in your digital marketing mix. Also, the tree strategies overlap each other, meaning to say that increasing your paid or own media coverage – as this will be increasing the visibility of your brand – will proportionally increase your earned media coverage.

 

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