Ethical PR: How to Vet Paid Media Opportunities 

by Heather Burgett | Business

What’s the difference between normal editorial press coverage and paid coverage?

Have you been approached by anyone online or on social media asking if you want to pay to be featured in an article?

My clients often wonder if they should do a Paid Media Opportunity.

There are so many changes and shifts happening in the PR and media space, and there are unfortunately a lot of questionable practices emerging.

As a PR pro, I’m always advising that my clients focus on “free publicity.” This is what we call EARNED Media.

This is real, legitimate media coverage by a credible media outlet where you do not pay to be featured in magazines, online sites, TV, radio, blogs or podcasts. You simply pitch your idea or story and get a media outlet excited to feature you and bring value to their audience.

Whenever you are doing a paid media opp, that is considered advertising or advertorial. It doesn’t typically have the same value or weight as earned editorial media coverage, which is a journalist putting their 3rd party stamp of credibility on you.

Our new age of the desire for instant gratification has many people looking for shortcuts to get featured. And if they have the budgets to throw at this problem, they can buy an editorial feature.

There are also countless small-time players out there who have low-quality websites or pseudo-online magazines and they will invite you to be featured for anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars. Remember, anyone can throw up a website and call it a magazine, so do your due diligence and review the outlet and its past features.

There are also a couple of other practices I’ve seen advertised on places like Instagram or Facebook:

1 – They’ll get you featured in media, but then I look at the names of the publications, and they are media outlets you’ve never even heard of and not considered legitimate or credible sources, even possibly made-up ones. If you’re looking to get social verification or a Wikipedia page, you must be featured in what they call “credible” sources.

2 – They’ll get you featured in the media by using a paid distribution service, which can get you featured on a variety of sites, but it is a paid service. So, it’s a paid PR tool and a bit misleading because they are often selling it to you as editorial media, which it is not. Putting your news release over a paid service is an accepted due diligence step that all PR agencies will do for their clients, but the real meat of the job is when you pitch yourself for that coveted real editorial media coverage. The upside to using a wire service is that you can often get your release picked up and featured on mainstream affiliate sites, which can lend credibility and give you the ability to use those logos for your “As seen in” section of your site or bio. I still prefer my clients to land their editorial wins and use those logos, but it is common practice now for people to use the logos from outlets they land using these paid services.

You might have received one of those messages stating that a magazine wants to include you as one of their Top 25 (Insert Topic) of the Year. Then comes the switcheroo…they want you to pay for this honor.

Typically, these opportunities will not take you too far, other than stroking your ego for a minute. They will claim they have larger audiences than they actually have, so in the end, not many people will actually see this often poorly crafted article.

And most people have caught on to the fact that these are paid opportunities.

That being said, on occasion, some of these advertorial opportunities might actually help you get your message out to the right people. But, since I am helping my clients get free publicity, my usual rule of thumb is to skip the pay-to-play opps and focus on real editorial.

With that knowledge, the landscape is shifting and it is getting more challenging to stand out and grow organically. Your social platforms intentionally make it hard to grow organically because they want you to pay for their advertising programs.

I tell my clients that to get visible and go from local to global it does take doing a little bit of a lot of different things. My best advice is to focus on editorial, mix in paid media opportunities only if they feel aligned to you and your brand, and execute a comprehensive plan that covers all the bases.

Here are some questions to ask yourself and the person approaching you about an interview opportunity:

1. Is this a free editorial or paid opportunity?

2. Is it a legitimate outlet that my ideal audience is consuming, and will it bring me value to be featured in this outlet? ie. Have you or anyone you know ever heard of this outlet? Do some googling and see what you can find in regard to the reputation of this outlet. Who have they featured in the past in actual interviews?

3. Can they send you samples (links or hard copies if it’s a magazine) of past similar coverage that you can see?

4. What is the demographic and circulation or traffic numbers? You’re looking for stats, so ask for the media kit that will outline this information.

5. If it’s a paid opp, how do they share that with the world. Legally, they are supposed to write something along the lines of: “paid advertisement,” “advertorial,” “sponsored article,” “native article,” etc.

6. Hot Tip – You can also reach out to someone they’ve featured before and ask if being featured in that outlet helped their career or business.

I find that editorial features will often result in much more positive results than paid opportunities. And if it’s an aligned paid opportunity that gets your message out to the right people in the right way, it’s worth considering it—as long as it’s part of your larger publicity and marketing plan.

For more guidance on getting visible in the media, book a call with Heather at

Or DM her on Instagram:

Heather Burgett
Award-winning Publicist & Transformational Business Coach at The Burgett Group Inc. | PR Stars

Heather Burgett has been called “one of the best PR people in the world" by Top 100 Business Coach David Meltzer. As an award-winning publicist, visibility expert & transformational business coach, she is dedicated to guiding transformational experts into the mainstream spotlight by amplifying their inner and outer authority—which results in more influence, impact and income. In her 25+ year career, she has generated billions of household media impressions for her clients—from unknown underdogs to A-list celebrities.

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