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Sponsored Content: Public Relations Dream or Nightmare?

PR is changing alonside the business plans of newspapers and magazines…

I’ve never worked in PR, so I don’t often blog about public relations.  If you’ll allow me to be completely honest, I don’t really understand PR.  I work in marketing at a small business, so I’ve written a press release or two, and I’m a total geek for social networking, so I’m familiar with PR tools like HARO and Muck Rack, but I’ve never had any formal public relations training, and I’m just beginning to grasp how the whole thing works.

All our press releases

All our press releases (Photo credit: Christopher S. Penn)

As a formal (hack) journalist, I’ve encountered a lot of surprises in my unguided introduction to PR; what has surprised me most is that many publications will pick up press releases without editing them.  I guess this shouldn’t surprise me, because formerly, I worked as the assistant editor for a magazine.  In this position, I scoured every word of copy that came in from our editorial side, but I never gave any of the advertisements we ran a second glance.

I thought this practice was one of the hazards of being on a 3 personal editorial staff at a tiny regional magazine.  But after seeing the snafu, that The Atlantic Magazine worked itself into this week; I’m realizing that editorial ambivalence towards paid content that appears in magazines is more or less universal.

If you’re not a journalism nerd, The Atlantic has been around for over a century, and is very well known for the thoroughness of its fact checkers.   An objectionable ad sneaking its way into the sponsored content section of The Atlantic is akin to a escaped death row prisoner cajoling his way into a private dinner at the White House.

Everyone makes mistakes, and since this is a business blog, I’ll spare you any more blathering about editorial practice, or journalistic integrity.  If you own a business, the only thing you need to know is that for the right amount of money, it’s currently possible to publish anything you want in the online version of any periodical.

As is often the case with huge businesses opportunities, being able to publish whatever you want is the ultimate double edged sword.  Magazines usually go to great lengths to differentiate sponsored content from editorial content.  This means that unless your company is VERY controversial, (like Scientology controversial) your business is going to catch all of the flack for errors in content, grammar, graphics, organization, prose, etc.

In this situation, knowledge is power.  Know that any press release you send to a wire service is going to appear exactly as you submit it.  Know that sponsored content you submit to magazines is not going to be so much as glanced at by any member of that magazines editorial staff.  Realistically, this means hiring a professional writer, or at least contracting with a copy editor.  If you insist on producing your own content, edit, edit, edit and edit.

Pay extra close attention to randomly capitalized letters.  I know how you business people are…

Want to talk small business public relations?  Chime in on Facebook.

 

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