The New York Times recently made its own news with rumors circulating, claiming it is considering letting advertisers sponsor articles on the web, taking cue from popular sites like BuzzFeed.
The topic showed up in a PR discussion group and garnered a strong reaction:
At first I was surprised by the strong reactions as sponsored content is nothing new. Open any national magazine and you’ll find advertorials and product placements right alongside traditional print ads and feature stories. Yes, these are different, and yes, people should know what content is being paid for vs. what has actually been earned, presumably by a PR pro. After all, by its most basic definition, isn’t PR about product placement - getting your client in front of the right audience through mass media outlets?
(Don’t get me wrong – I would be offended if someone thought all I did was glorified product placement. It takes strategy, skill and a big heaping dose of ETHICS to equal good public relations. Media relations is also just one part of a comprehensive public relations campaign.)
So how will PR be affected by sponsored content? I could see two sides: One that paints sponsored content as the bane of PR's existence, or the one that simply adds sponsored content to our long list of PR tactics.
The former is easy to see – the coverage is paid for, which pretty much goes against the point of PR, and blurs the line of ethical journalism.
As for the latter, while we wouldn’t want to pay for our clients’ media coverage, the essence of sponsored coverage is creating compelling content that relates back to the brand – a skill dominated by PR industry folk.
What do you think? Should we embrace sponsored content by finding the median between PR and advertising, or should we attribute it to the furthering decline of hard journalism?