Is a guaranteed placement really PR? Many PR professionals believe that it is, while others feel that it is advertising in disguise. A guaranteed placement can be better categorized as an integrated marketing communications tool: the synergy between advertising, marketing and public relations working together.
First, let’s review the definition of public relations. Barron’s Dictionary of Business Terms defines public relation as, “publicity that does not necessitate payment in a wide variety of media and is often placed as news or items of public interest.” Therefore, by definition, a guaranteed placement is not a form of PR. True broadcast public relations is earned by providing a reporter strong, rich content, which they in turn find newsworthy enough to place in their news, talk show or public affairs programs.
Then what is a guaranteed placement? In broadcasting, it is a 30 to 60 second spot that sounds vaguely like news, but is more like an infomercial that is typically aired just after a newscast. Since it is usually placed in close proximity to legitimate newscasts, it tends to sound like an extension of the news. It is understandable why some PR professionals would classify this as advertising in disguise, because it is a purchased spot that is camouflaged as a news story. Although guaranteed placements are not PR, they are still a communications tool that some professionals may choose to use, with the understanding that they do not compare with earned media placements.
Earned placements have greater value than guaranteed placements. When public relations professionals pitch a story to reporters or editors, they evaluate the content for newsworthiness and relevance to their listening or reading audience. This filtering process eliminates the weak pitches and adds value to the stories that air. An industry view is that earned public relations placements’ value is between two and a half and three times that of advertising.
The lines between public relations, marketing and advertising are blurring at a rapid pace. With these rapid shifts, it is important though to understand the difference between earned and guaranteed placements. Earned placements are the results of a craft, while guaranteed placements are the results of a commodity. Public relations is a profession that takes skills, finesse and a lot of dedication. To call a guaranteed placement a PR tool belittles and discredits anyone who has ever researched, written or pitched a credible story.