Story for Sale
Senior Account Director
UNETHICAL AND UNBELIEVABLE. That was my first reaction upon reading this story, “PR pitch: We’ll pay you to mention our clients.” Having sat on both sides of the table (I was a reporter before I came to DH), I can’t imagine a PR professional bribing a journalist to cover their client as the story describes.
The majority of PR professionals, in particular members of the Public Relations Society of America(PRSA), uphold a Code of Ethics. The decision made by the professional in this story goes squarely against industry standard and values.
So many PR professionals take painstaking effort to ensure that our advice to clients not only supports their goals, but also falls in line with legal and ethical obligations.
Paying a journalist to cover your story (or bribing or threatening—or anything other than just presenting for consideration) is 100% unjustified. Not only would you harm your client through bad representation and counsel, you’d demonstrate a serious lapse in judgment and offend a professional who has dedicated his or her career to writing the truth in the public’s best interest. Not to mention, if a journalist actually went for this scheme, the public would be duped (and that’s bad for all of us).
We often call encouraging media coverage “pitching,” or “earned media.” These fall in separate camps than “paid media” or “advertising” and here’s why:
- Paid: The client and PR professional can control every thing about the message (traditional and online advertising). You PAY for it!
- Earned: The client and PR professional will be represented fairly and objectively (newspapers, television, radio). You EARN it!
If everyone got to pay for their stories in the news, it would undermine everything journalism stands for—fairness, truth, and transparency.
As a PR professional, you have your moments when you wish every one of your clients could be in the news for something positive but that’s just not the case. It makes it that much sweeter when a journalist sees the newsworthiness in the story that legitimately deserves coverage because the public needs to know.
The ultimate success for both journalists and PR professionals is news coverage that makes a difference in the lives of the public.