Now that the internet has taken over the way we absorb information, we have entire new industries cropping up that generate “content.” Content used to come primarily from printed sources — books, magazines, newspapers, etc. Then radio and tv, but now from everywhere and everyone. Naturally the credibility of the content we find online varies, to say the least. But generally, we still rely on mainstream journalists to give us some level of credible, ethical writing. At least, some of us do.
There’s a whole new profession called ‘content marketing.’ Once upon a time we called it mostly advertorial, but it’s basically producing information for a marketing purpose, that’s not really advertising. Wikipedia describes it as:
Content marketing is any marketing that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire and retain customers. This information can be presented in a variety of formats, including news, video, white papers, e-books, infographics, case studies, how-to guides, question and answer articles, photos, etc.
So clearly this is not journalism. People will pay for content marketing, but you can’t pay a journalist directly to write about you. At my journalism school we were taught about the horrible error of “business office must,” where the ad sales guys try to influence who or what gets covered in the paper, but we ethical journalists push back for our neutrality. PR people understand that, which is why we pitch reporters, hoping to get their attention, but don’t pay them for coverage. But content marketers have not all learned that.
Take the case last fall in St. Louis, Missouri, of a lobby group, Grow Missouri, that offered to pay journalists to write blog posts promoting their tax reform messages. A representative of an agency working for Grow Missouri emailed reporters asking them to write blog posts for the lobby group saying lovely things about Grow Missouri. but these are the same reporters who usually cover the issues in which the group is involved.
So to be clear, this is NOT good PR, nor is it ethical PR. But then again, it wasn’t really PR at all, was it? It was an attempt at content marketing, but with the wrong writers.
And what happened? Well, the reporters who were approached laughed, ignored, and then posted the emails they were sent by Grow Missouri and blogged about how wrong they thought this was. So of course that made it worse, because now it was public. The agency that sent the emails apologized, but by then Grow Missouri had fired them and they weren’t smelling so sweet in public opinion.
…we mistakenly contacted five journalists who cover politics, asking them to write articles that would appear on our client’s blog. Our team did not realize the conflict that this would cause for these individuals.
The issue of journalists being in conflict comes up all the time (watch for a later post from me on the CBC’s recent troubles with one of their ‘journalists’), but this story just goes to show that while the internet may have changed how we get our content, the credibility of mainstream media hasn’t changed, really. And that’s a good thing.