No guarantees in PR

We have become increasingly concerned about a recent trend in PR.

We have become increasingly concerned about a recent trend in PR.

Guaranteed placement, a form of advertising, is increasingly coming out of the PR budget, often spent with PR services firms. To ensure media coverage for clients, five out of five PR broadcast services firms News Generation surveyed are turning to paying for placement of stories on TV and radio outlets. But what does a guaranteed placement sound or look like? More important, does it provide the same value as a true earned media placement?

There are no guarantees in PR, though some PR services firms use buzzwords like "guaranteed placements," "mutual understanding," or "formal agreement," which all mean one thing: They buy time, which is obviously not the same as earning it. Information from guaranteed placements does not air in the program itself, but is separate from the content of the talk show or newscast, as it should be, because it's an ad.

We are frequently surprised when potential clients tell us other firms offer guarantees on usage. Even more disturbing is the practice of reporting the guaranteed placement alongside earned media, blurring the distinction between the two and giving the impression that they are equal in value.

When service companies buy time on media outlets, the stories air in what sounds like a commercial break and not in the newscast itself. This placement is a breakaway from the anchor, like any other commercial break, therefore devaluing the message as earned media. When a story is accepted based on its merit, it airs in the newscast, making it more credible because it was evaluated by a reporter who saw news value.

PR services firms are accepting weak stories and end up buying time to make up for the fact that weak stories cannot get placed, and that impacts everyone in PR negatively.

We have called upon PR services firms offering guaranteed placements to not hide behind the term "public relations" and to be honest about ad buys.

We want to assure all of our clients and colleagues that News Generation operates
under the strict values of the PRSA code of ethics. Reporters and producers are individually pitched, and they decide a story's newsworthiness.

Guaranteed placement is a slippery slope. There are stories that are not worth doing full media campaigns for, but, on the flip side, there are many stories that have the potential to receive a lot of earned media coverage and are simply rolled into these commercial breaks.

Susan Matthews Apgood and Lynn Harris Medcalf
Cofounders
News Generation


Corrections
In last week's campaign about ADP Employer Services, Cohn & Wolfe senior account supervisor Julie Conrad's name and title were incorrect.

In our Awards supplement, Hill & Knowlton was named as working with Factiva on its Reputation Intelligence tool in the PR Innovation of the Year category. While H&K is Factiva's PR firm, the product was created solely in-house by Factiva. PRWeek regrets the errors.

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