Should PR agencies pay bloggers for coverage promoting their clients?

Blogger payments is a murky area for many communications professionals. However, PR pros are better off sticking to the old standard of relying on their abilities, rather than their checkbooks. It makes for better content.


Ryan Holiday, Director of marketing, American Apparel
Over four years of marketing and communications work for the fashion brand

In a world where the Internet drives the news, marketers have to pay for placement.

Blogging is a tough business. Many bloggers are required to post dozens of times a week.

The margins are razor thin and staffers with almost inhuman deadlines are underpaid. Journalism's necessary, but expensive qualities - from research to cultivating sources - are increasingly a thing of the past.

While we may lament this, those of us with jobs in PR have to acknowledge reality: today, you have to pay to play. If you want it, you have to buy it.

I'm not talking about bribery, but I am saying for blogs, money gets you a seat at the table. It's the grease that keeps the industry's wheels moving.

Take online advertising. In old media, there was long a separation of sales and editorial. In blogs, which are often much smaller operations, there is no such line. The writer is publisher, writer, and salesman. Buying ads on a blog is a great way to build a connection and a sense of reciprocity; it's not inherent the way it is with century-old media brands.

With my clients, I recommend buying ads on sites they want coverage on in order to develop a relationship. When that blog is about to publish a controversial story about the client, they'll contact us for comment first as they have our information on the checks we send them.

Free products? Paid travel? Access to scoops? They don't seem like pay for placement, but they are. Busy bloggers with no travel budgets can't track down breaking news or cool new products. But they're happy to cover it if it falls into their laps.

Today, that's where PR pros are helping, especially in the world of fashion blogging, where aspiring girls worldwide run their own mini-Vogue magazines. If brands want these girls to model their product, they pay for it, or pay for their flights and travel to fashion events.

Abstaining from all this for moral reasons is understandable. PR can be a bit icky; I get it. But your competitors will have no problem taking advantage of these opportunities.

And in doing so, they will steal the attention you feel rightfully belongs to you.


Lisa Astor, Vice president, Pan Communications
Representating clients in the tech and healthcare IT sectors for more than 10 years

PR should not pay bloggers for coverage for several reasons. First and foremost, because it is a loophole way of securing coverage for clients.

As PR practitioners, there are many reasons clients hire us. Organizations want PR pros who know editors and bloggers and what they are looking for; to cultivate thought leaders within their companies; and develop proactive, compelling storylines that result in coverage.

They want coverage that comes with third-party validation that can only be achieved by nurturing a relationship between blogger, PR pro, and client spokesperson - not by cutting a check.

We are hired to become their content engines, not to pay someone else to develop content. Fewer and fewer print publications are in existence and all outlets - in print or online - have smaller staffs covering more beats, which has resulted in a unique opportunity to create contributed content that appears as bylines or guest blog posts.

It is our responsibility as the PR firm to become an extension of our clients and under- stand their businesses at the deepest level so that we - not another writer on the payroll - can curate that content.

If an organization has reached a point where there is a consideration to hire a blogger to draft content, then the PR firm or representative has failed at achieving two objectives.

The PR practitioner was unable to secure strong media and blogger coverage, nor were they proficient enough to develop content worthy of being placed as a guest post on a prominent industry blog.

Furthermore, when PR starts paying for profiles or other coverage on industry blogs, eventually, it defeats the purpose. Just as insiders are well aware of "pay for play" awards, bloggers who write for cash will become well known within the industry, ultimately reducing the credibility and viability of the content the client paid for.

For organizations looking to increase their visibility via third-party validation, the best choice is to select a PR firm or representative capable of nurturing relationships, understanding their business, and creating compelling content all on their own. 

PRWeek's View
Blogger payments is a murky area for many communications professionals. However, PR pros are better off sticking to the old standard of relying on their abilities, rather than their checkbooks. It makes for better content.

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