Fake PR, or is it?!

Over the past few months I’ve been chatting here and there on Clubhouse with PR professionals about a little feature that’s filtering into the PR and marketing world.

Over the past few months I’ve been chatting here and there on Clubhouse with PR professionals about a little feature that’s filtering into the PR and marketing world (this world) that’s available to anyone with at least $500 on Yahoo Finance.

It’s the ability to place an ad that looks like editorial.

For the PR students a quick explainer on the difference is that an ad is advertising – a controlled message often with visuals placed in media and social media that is paid for with placement pre-negotiated and guaranteed.

Advertorial is also paid for but it is designed in a way that looks like it’s an article, sometimes a news article.

Editorial is media coverage placed by a journalist based on news-value and merit.

Publicity is material or information used for promotion; with notice or attention given to it by someone in the media.

Public Relations, is getting what you’ve got into the hearts and minds of people who need it most, to build brand.

Refer here for the raraPR Glossary of terms. 

Advertorial has been going on since the 80s when it was first introduced. Back then however it was declared. And back then PR professionals left it to the advertising suits to manage it. Also back then and still now (mostly) it was placed in consultation with the advertising team who represent the publication. Thus maintaining some form of ‘presumed’ credibility or at least strategic thought to brand positioning, association and integrity.  

PR in the past was ­below-the-line spend.
Advertising was above-the-line spend.

Again refer to the raraPR Glossary of terms to get clear on the difference between above-the-line and below-the-line-spend if you’re not sure.

Never the twain shall meet. Until social media and digital marketing came along that is.

And until it was made abundantly clear that PR professionals should absolutely be pulling the levers where possible and influencing digital ad spend as part of creating and sharing story for a brand. 

In 2021 things have very much changed for the modern PR professional. And in a world of uncertainty one thing is very certain; PR and the craft of PR done well has and will continue to evolve.

These days and since the 90s advertorials are not always declared and are placed in ways to try and make it harder for consumers to tell the difference between what is paid placement and what is earned placement based on merit and news value.

Advertorials often take shape as product placement pages, or recommendation pages within print magazines and now of course online.  But they also take shape in the form of what looks like a news article.

It should absolutely be declared, especially when the articles are designed to look like industry awards. But in the era of democratised content creation and sharing; again this is not new. It’s not ideal. It’s not my style. But PR pros can absolutely use it for good. What’s not cool is PR pros pretending it’s earned. The horror!

Yahoo Finance has taken the realm of advertorial to a place where you can pay for all sorts of manifestations some of which look like industry awards based news editorial; some of these include:

  • Placing an article about your business in the Yahoo Finance news pages which can say anything you want it to say i.e. ‘raraPR is the best PR agency in Melbourne and Australia.’
  • Being listed in a series of top tens for example the best service provider within your industry i.e. raraPR is one of the top ten product PR and lifestyle agencies in the world. Heck,you can even create your own listicle.
  • Creating location ‘best service provider’ articles for your business based on location and ideal search terms.

There’s been some PR pro uneasiness about the above.  

  • Does this de-value earned editorial?
  • Where does this leave the state of PR?
  • What is truth and what is fact, it’s misleading!
  • Advertorials were at least under the custodianship of the media outlet’s advertising team and held to a standard, but not now. 
  • It’s deceitful and fake publicity
  • It’s not ok if it is not declared
  • These top ten best lists are not earned or credible

Well, PR possums. All of this is valid but here is my take on the situation.

This doesn’t de-value earned editorial, if anything it raises the value of the impact a PR professional can have on securing quality coverage within the media as third party endorsement; based on editorial merit.

Oh no is this the future of PR?
Absolutely not. PR is holistic, inclusive of all communication touch points to a brand – both internally and externally. As well as that it guides third party endorsement. Advertorial is not the future of PR.

But it’s important to remember PR is far from just publicity.  

This is one, just one place in the whole wide world where a business owner can create content about themselves or their business that might be embellishing the truth or misleading.

Obviously with social media, curated testimonials, hungry advertisers willing to sprout whatever they can, influencers spruiking product for paid gains; really this situation is ever-present.

The power is with us, the individual to use the tools available to us in the right way. Great PR, will always be centred on truth and authenticity.

Isn’t it misleading, deceitful and fake?

Refer to the above. Also, the word is getting around quickly that these placements are bought ads without pre-approval. To think that they will be seen as otherwise in the long term is to undermine the modern consumer. And to over-value advertorial and editorial.

Consumers are promotionally savvy these days and one article placement paid or otherwise in an online platform isn’t enough to shape opinion or influence meaningful action long term. Consumers these days bounce off something like this and look for more evidence.

Quality content over time and a legitimate and engaged community that will vouch for you when you’re not in the room cannot be faked.

Exhale dear. Nothing to fear here.

PR professionals shouldn’t be paying for ads
In 2021 it’d be silly for the PR pros to not be managing digital ad spend and media buy or at least influencing it as much as possible to dovetail their efforts directly. Digital ads are part of the PR arsenal now.

Their wouldn’t be too many PR agencies these days who are not selling social media or influencer partnership services as a way to take ownership of narrative and communication on behalf of a business.

The free lunch on social media was over a long time ago. Paying for visibility should be a part of a smart and relevant social and digital strategy.

Organic strategies can still be effective (raraPR is fully organic, for now); and it’s important to get organic content in order first before paying for ads; however for most clients we do recommend above-the-line spend across digital and social to amplify cut-through on social media posts and online editorial coverage.

And who better to manage this than the PR professional creating the organic posts. It makes sense. It streamlines creative teams and optimises cut-through on the entire comms mix.

But these advertorials are fake PR
Well let’s just clarify that it’s fake publicity. It is not fake PR.

Remember that PR and publicity are two separate things and should not be terms that are interchanged as though they have the same meaning. They don’t.

Ok, so it’s fake publicity
Yes, pretty much. In the form of advertorial.

It’s without the tick of an advertising team’s approval, but again so is a lot of the content that’s out there in the world with content platforms democratised for anyone to use at whim.

PR professionals have an opportunity here to raise the standard and to use sites like Yahoo Finance to their advantage if it’s on-brand for their client and be completely transparent about what it is and how it works. Is it for everyone? No. Is it for me? No. But I remain as always, open minded and non-attached to what PR is because how we do it is always evolving.

I do think though that the PR agencies who are selling this as an earned strategy is misleading and that is absolutely NQR.

But it can be used for good. It’s up to us collectively about how we fill the pipes.  

Use it as a way to secure affordable ‘ad’ coverage that you can guarantee that reinforces good for the world by creating content that is helpful, truthful and valuable. It’s an opportunity to quieten the hood-winkers, and shine through as a beacon of light. What I’m saying is; it’s not all bad.

Let’s not be Mrs Mangles and all attached to the past, to the shoulds, the ‘right way’, and be open to evolving and using the tools we have available to us for good.

But if it’s fake; then how is it credible?

Well it’s not credible is it. People have been buying ad space forever and a day that embellishes truth; that spotlights a business in the way they want to be seen regardless of fact.

Consumers will soon find the truth. Again it’s about moving away from the thinking that publicity is the holy grail of PR. While important and powerful, it’s only one element of PR and what is available to PR professionals today to help advance a brand and its cause.

Credibility comes from a beautiful product that is reinforced with established integrity and proven track record, a beautiful service, an engaged community built over time, incredible team culture, a website that is well-positioned and provides value, content across platforms that gives back – credibility doesn’t come from one article placement, paid or earned.

It’s an ad. Use it as an ad. Declare as an ad. Or don’t.

I am definitely not condoning this situation.

I absolutely think it should be more clear that these are advertorials without any publication tick of approval.

But I’m realistic. There are always people who will find loopholes to fabricate truth and embellish what is news for commercial advantage.

Let’s take a step and back and look at ways to use it as a positive; how can we create online real-estate that supports the clients we represent in a way that is well positioned for them?!

If Yahoo Finance doesn’t position well for your clients or your business as a form of advertorial then don’t place it.

PR Pros of 2021 should always be looking for new ways to share story in a meaningful way. And that may very much include paid advertorial (openly declared as such) as part of the PR mix.

Will I be using Yahoo Finance as a way to secure online real estate for my clients? No. But would I consider it? Absolutely. All new possibilities that help you to reach the people who need what you’ve got should be considered. Our job is to scout for opportunities and consider them.

I encourage more PR professionals to pitch for and take control of the advertising spend to directly support their credible, valuable and hard-earned media placements.

Use what is available to you. Use it well. Be the beacon of good.

It’s reductive to think that PR in 2021 is publicity or editorial alone. We are storytellers.

PR pros help people find their story. Tell their story. And share their story. We inspire change through finding and creating community. We bring about emotional connection through story. But in order for there to be commercial viability in anything we do there needs to be a good product or service behind it.  A fairy floss advertorial won’t threaten this.

The PR world today is as exciting, as always. It is fast evolving, forever changing and it is wise to not get too attached to the avenues we travel to build brand or to the platforms from which we execute on.  We go where consumers flow. Continue to be the one that places stories that are truthful, meaningful, thoughtful and considered. Be the beacon of PR good. It will diffuse the fake news and fake publicity that is unfortunately a part of the world we live in.

About raraPR

raraPR is an Australian public relations, digital marketing and branding agency. We are PR mentors, brand boosters and community creators for business owners, industry leaders and entrepreneurs. What we do goes far beyond the typical PR agency.

Our Ethos
We’re a passionate team who thrive on creating content that works. Or in other words, tasteful brand assets that build equity for a business.
We’re driven by the purpose, the meaning and the stories behind why a business exists as much as the quality of the product or service.
We’re inspired by being around the start-up community, entrepreneurs, intrepreneurs, solopreneurs, creators, makers, thought-leaders, dreamers and seekers willing to go beyond the good for the truly great.
The desire to help people take their business to the next level and reach their potential drives everything we do.
We get excited about producing innovative and thoughtful PR, digital, social media and design outcomes.
We’re at our natural best when we’re connecting talent and bringing communities together inside and outside the company.
We collaborate and become a seamless extension of our clients’ team.
We see, listen, mentor, educate, inspire, support, direct, provide clarity and instil confidence within our team andour community.
We care about providing value, which is the fundamental centrepiece of what we do.
We’re all about honesty and integrity, authenticity and transparency. That’s how we roll.