Is Guaranteed Publicity Ethical?

  • October 25, 2022
  • Josh Steimle

Search Google for “guaranteed publicity” and you’ll find PR firms making claims like “Guaranteed PR coverage is not only unethical, it can even be illegal,” or “paid coverage doesn’t last as long as earned coverage” and so forth.

And yet here at Canvas PR, we offer guaranteed publicity. Why would we offer a guarantee on our PR services if it’s unethical and doesn’t work long term? Are we unconcerned about ethics? Are we just in it for a quick buck?

What They Say About Guaranteed Publicity

If you dig into the articles that claim that guaranteed publicity is wrong, bad, and peak wickedness not seen upon the earth since Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, they often contain points we agree with. For example, one blog post says, “Paying a journalist under the table to write about a company or a product is the signal of an inexperienced, desperate, or unethical PR agency.” Another blog post states, “When a brand or PR representative pays a rogue news media contributor to publish content under the guise that it is earned media, they are engaged in payola.”

We agree 100%, which is why we don’t pay journalists or publications in order to get PR for our clients.

However, we disagree with statements like, “Authentic ‘earned media’ should be the aim of PR but coverage should never be guaranteed.”

Why shouldn’t it?

The blog post being referenced goes on to list reasons why, when a PR firm pitches an article, it might not get published. It reads like a list of excuses. “Sorry, there were unexpected events,” and “It was a political decision to not publish your article,” and “Sometimes journalists are incompetent.” The same blog post then says towards the end, “If a piece of ‘earned media’ doesn’t work out, then a good PR firm will figure out how to rectify it!”

That sounds like a guarantee, doesn’t it?

Yet another PR blog post asks, “Can you have guaranteed earned media coverage?” and then answers, “No, you cannot have guaranteed earned media coverage.” The author claims that, “Having a ‘guaranteed’ story would be ignoring what a journalist’s audience wants, which would harm their reputation, so there’s a good reason why journalists and other media contacts don’t do guaranteed stories.”

Why would you have to ignore what a journalist’s audience wants in order to guaranteed a client a placement? If you were offering a guarantee, wouldn’t paying strict attention to what a journalist wants be the best way to fulfill the guarantee?

Another PR blog puts it succinctly, “The only way to guarantee coverage is to pay for it.”

This simply isn’t true.

How Guaranteed Publicity Works

The way our guaranteed publicity services at Canvas PR work is quite simple:

  1. You, the client, tell us what publication you want to be in. Let’s say it’s Forbes.
  2. We, Canvas PR, learn about you and/or your organization as well as your objectives, and we talk about ideas for articles in Forbes that might help you achieve your objectives.
  3. We take the ideas we’ve discussed, approach a few Forbes writers with whom we’ve developed good relationships, and ask them, “Hey, what do you think about this company, would you be interested in writing a story about them? What kind of topic or headline would your audience be interested in?”
  4. Once we have worked out a few headlines with the writer at Forbes, we come back to you and say, “Here are some headlines the writer said they’d be interested in writing articles for. Do any of these appeal to you?”
  5. You choose your favorite headlines, or tell us if you like all of them, or none of them (in which case we repeat the process of brainstorming with the same writer, or a different one if necessary).
  6. Once a headline is chosen, the article gets written.
  7. We bring the article back to you for you to review and provide feedback and check all the facts.
  8. Once you approve the article, the writer publishes it.

Does this process work 100% of the time? Yes and no. Sometimes an editor “ruins” the article by taking you out of it. Sometimes the writer decides not to publish the article.

However, part of the process is our guarantee. We guaranteed to get the placement, so if we run into a roadblock, we take care of it. We keep working until the placement is made. If we don’t deliver within 90 days, you can ask for a full refund.

We’re able to offer this publicity guarantee because we have great relationships with lots of journalists and we’ve done this so much that we have a track record that predicts future success.

Do we care about ethics? As much as if not more than anyone else out there.

Do we get our clients earned media? Absolutely. Nothing we get for our clients is advertorial or anything but full editorial content.

Are we strategic in our approach? Yes.

Do the results we get last for the long-term? We get the same type of articles for our clients that any other PR firm gets for their own. If anyone’s PR impact is long term, so is ours.

So why do so many people say you can’t guarantee publicity?

I don’t know. Maybe they’re scared. Maybe they misunderstand. Maybe it’s semantics and we actually all agree but we’re using the same words to mean different things.

What I know is that we’ve guaranteed publicity for years, and we have hundreds of happy clients using our services.