Unless you’re really interested in media relations you may have missed the New York Times article about companies paying Chinese journalists to write flattering articles about them. It turns out that in China, for about $20,000 a page, you can have your CEO profiled in Esquire. For $4,000 a minute your top executive could be interviewed on a news program on state-run China Central Television. And, according to the article, China’s not alone. This practice of paying for a flattering news piece by a reputable news outlet is also common in Europe, Japan, Latin America and yes, even here in the U.S.
For large companies with vast amounts of money this may seem like the Holy Grail – just pay to have your CEO profiled and it’s win-win for everyone. I, however, have two issues with this practice.
First, it totally devalues what I do for a living. Rarely, if ever, are these sorts of news pieces accompanied by the disclaimer that they were paid for. So that means that if you, as my client, see your competition profiled in one of these outlets you immediately wonder what I, as your PR rep, am doing wrong that I didn’t get you there. Suddenly it seems like a no brainer – your CEO should be profiled too because your company is totally and completely more awesome and the whole world should know it. Sadly, if your competition paid for that article – which we may never know if they did – your chances of being profiled are zero unless you’re also willing to hand over fistfuls of cash to make it happen.
So what’s my second issue? The handing over of fistfuls of cash to secure a favorable news piece about your company. In my opinion the last remaining shreds of integrity that the news media has goes out the window the second they accept money from you. Not to mention that the general public’s view of your organization may falter if they realize you paid for that news article instead of earning it. My job requires me to stay on top of what’s happening in the world – be it mobile application development or cloud computing – and if journalists and publications are happily accepting money for a favorable article I, and everyone else, no longer know what’s real journalism and what’s been bought.
I’m smart enough to not trust everything I read and to look at a variety of sources for information but let’s not kid ourselves, not everyone does that. And, I’ll be honest, I’ve worked with clients before who were not above paying for a positive article. Were they happy with the outcome? Yes, they were. But personally, I like the satisfaction that comes with scoring a big win for my clients – knowing that my hard work paid off and I helped them land that coveted interview or cover story. Paying someone to write that story just doesn’t leave me with same warm and fuzzy feeling as knowing I did my job well.