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Communications and public relations can be confusing at the best of times.

The suite of services that PR professionals provide to clients can appear overwhelming; the methods that firms employ strikingly diverse.

But from pitching, event hosting and press release distribution to social media management, an important line in the sand bisects all communications activity: the distinction between editorial and non-editorial content.

By way of context, editorial content refers to ‘earned’ media, that is to say, content penned– (or facilitated by) a member of the press based on its value to the story alone. ‘Unearned’, meanwhile, refers to content placed using additional funds provided directly by the client on a sort of ‘pay-to-play’ basis.

This type of article, while   still legitimate, often appears as an ‘advertorial’ or ‘partnership’ piece that, crucially, looks markedly different from an earned, editorial opportunity.

Over the last few months, a number of articles have surfaced that claim a new type of practice is quickly gathering momentum – one that straddles the imaginary line in the sand. This ‘payola’ journalism looks to take something of a Hovis approach: supposedly embracing the best qualities of each with the limitations of neither. Yet in reality, payola sees some members of the press offered unofficial and undisclosed compensation in return for including a business in a seemingly editorial capacity, directly contravening journalistic norms in the process.

In 2018, where the boundaries between earned and unearned media seem to appear more blurred than ever, the onus is on responsible agencies to communicate the distinction between editorial and non-editorial content to their clientele.

With a renewed emphasis on transparency and trust, public relations and communications specialists can ensure clients understand the different types of media, their own unique value to businesses and the dangers of diluting editorial integrity now and in the future.

Harry Potts

Harry is an Account Manager at Liberty Communications.

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