The Advent of Pay-to-Play Publicity

Someone seems to think that PR has deep pockets.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

Pay-to-play pub­li­city — it had to arrive soon­er or later.

A Swedish com­pany now offers a pay-to-play func­tion­al­ity that allows brands to unlock pay­walled art­icles to increase vis­ib­il­ity for pos­it­ive mentions.

Quite a few Swedish news organ­isa­tions have already joined:

Swedish news organisations offering brands to unlock specific paywalled content.
Swedish news organ­isa­tions now offer to unlock a spe­cif­ic pay­walled art­icle with pos­it­ive brand mentions.

The ser­vice tar­gets PR pro­fes­sion­als, and their pitch is that online PR does­n’t work any­more; it’s a shame that great brand men­tions get locked away behind pay­walls.

Glimta's aggressive pitch to PR professionals.
Glimta’s aggress­ive pitch to PR professionals.

Here’s how it works in a nut­shell: below is a loc­al news art­icle with a pos­it­ive brand men­tion behind a paywall:

A positive brand mention behind a paywall.
A pos­it­ive brand is men­tioned behind a paywall.

The brand, or any oth­er brand, can unlock this piece of con­tent for a fee.

pay-to-play | Journalism & News Business | Doctor Spin
The fee struc­ture for open­ing edit­or­i­al con­tent behind paywalls.

For com­par­is­on, 10,000 SEK is roughly 1,100 USD.

At these rates, most Swedish com­pan­ies work­ing act­ively with PR would con­sider unlock­ing a pos­it­ive brand men­tion for the allot­ted time. But they won’t be too happy about it — the thrill of pub­li­city is, of course, that any­one can read about your brand.

Not just the people you send the art­icle to.

Publicity work now becomes laden with anoth­er task; brands will have to take full own­er­ship of dis­trib­ut­ing their “super link.”

How do you share this “super link?” Via social media, most likely. And that, as we know, comes with an addi­tion­al fee today.

I can­’t help but feel that pay-to-play pub­li­city takes some of the fun out of get­ting tra­di­tion­al pub­li­city. I’m sure that most PR pro­fes­sion­als would agree.

We can say many things about pub­lic rela­tions, but no one can say it’s a high-mar­gin busi­ness. Each addi­tion­al cost will have to come out of the pock­ets of com­mu­nic­at­ors and PR professionals.

Still, we can­’t be blam­ing the com­pany behind this solution.

If the altern­at­ive has your brand men­tions pay­walled forever, this provides PR pro­fes­sion­als with an extra option. But the “good news” stops there, I’m afraid.

What will hap­pen if pay-to-play pub­li­city becomes the norm?

Here’s what to expect from news publishers:

  • An uptick in pub­lish­ing art­icles with strongly pos­it­ive brand men­tions since brands won’t pay to unlock just plain mentions.
  • An incent­ive to move more busi­ness news behind paywalls.
  • Proactive sales teams to con­tact busi­nesses who are men­tioned in edit­or­i­al art­icles with offers to unlock them.
  • Journalists will quickly learn what art­icles gets unlocked and which that doesn’t.
  • Internal score­cards that already include clicks and shares will start to be weighed for rev­en­ue as well.

And here’s what to expect from PR professionals:

  • Exploring the poten­tial of unlock­ing neg­at­ive brand men­tions of com­pet­ing businesses.
  • Exploring the pos­sib­il­ity to stra­tegic­ally unlock all art­icles por­tray­ing just one side of a broad­er story.
  • An open­ing to ini­ti­ate site-wide nego­ti­ations for do-fol­low linkbacks.
  • Pushback for edits: A small mis­quote or mis­rep­res­ent­a­tion of the busi­ness = no payment.
  • When pitch­ing a news story to the report­er, PR pro­fes­sion­als will offer to unlock the story at full price already at the gate.

Let’s hope that we all can do bet­ter than this.

Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Cover Photo


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