There is not one good PR person in the business who has picked up the phone and pitched a pretty good story to a reporter or editor and hasn’t had it shot down. It happens all the time for any number of reasons.
Perhaps the story doesn’t fit the news organization’s formula or format for news. Maybe the story has been done recently. And then there are times when editors and reporters decide that the subject matter is a bit too complex or just not interesting enough for their readers or viewers.
For these reasons and many more, communicators run into the buzz saw that is media relations.
So, what to do when the gatekeepers of the news room “lock the gate?”
There are many options while staying within the realm of media relations. You could re-think your approach. Maybe target a different beat in the news room, or rethink the way the story is presented. All worthy considerations under the right circumstances.
But then there are times when it’s worth considering stepping outside the boundaries of traditional media relations and considering a different approach, one where you can still reach out to the same readers with much greater control and predictability – sponsored content.
Why sponsored content?
Sponsored content is otherwise known as “native advertising,” and it used to be commonly dubbed “advertorials.” The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) says that sponsored content or native advertising consists of “paid ads that are so cohesive with the page content, assimilated into the design, and consistent with the platform behavior that the viewer simply feels they belong.”
In other words, you’re creating an ad that looks, reads and feels like the publication’s or Web site’s own editorial content.
Of course there are ethical stipulations so that the reader is not fooled into presuming that your ad is in fact content produced by the editors of the media channel that publishes it. Most notably, your content will be labeled (usually tastefully) something like, “Paid Content,” “Sponsored Content,” or simply “Advertisement.”
A Construction and Siting Scenario
Let’s say project planners want to work to build awareness of and create transparency around siting for a construction and development project in a rural area.
The complexity and sensitivity of the issues involved require more than periodic dissemination of news releases announcing the project’s plans. Regulators are involved. Maybe there is a public hearing process as well. So, an ambitious media relations outreach program is conducted. As part of this program, the planners develop traditional opinion page submissions. Some make it to print, others do not.
It becomes clear that this approach may not be enough to ensure that the community is getting all of the information it needs. Still, it is unrealistic to expect the editors to devote the kind of editorial space required to truly do justice to the broad and comprehensive subject matter associated any single construction project.
A supplemental strategy of using sponsored content may be an option.
Using such a strategy, planners can decide when and where certain content appears. Each article can more deeply explore particular issues, such as the potential economic or infrastructure impact of the project, and what’s being done to protect the community and the environment.
The complexity of these topics cannot easily be covered in a billboard or 30-second commercial. Advertorials developed around each important issue can make a difference.
A consistent format that is unique to the project can then be developed so that it complements the editorial content of regional and local newspapers, without creating confusion over the source of the content, which is clearly marked.
In the end, the community has a chance to more fully hear the story on what the project means to them, and the project planners are better able to keep their commitment to openness and transparency.
If your organization is faced with the challenge of communicating comprehensive and complex information and may need to supplement or extend its traditional media relations efforts, an appropriate sponsored content strategy could be a way to go.
If this is something you’re thinking about, please feel free to get in touch. We might be able to help you get your plans on track.