As consumers, we have grown to rely on the media to make more and more decisions for us: what we should eat, how we should look, what type of career to pursue, and even which doctors to trust. Many brands and corporations we know and trust have built their reputation organically, but in the digital age, authenticity and work ethic may not be the determining factor for what is featured in media.
From a PR standpoint, a blend of different types of paid and earned media in this time of influencer marketing and social media dominance is inescapable, but earned media has started to take a backseat to white label placement. This becomes a major problem when a company can simply buy a feature in a top publication or pay an influencer an exorbitant fee to promote something they don’t necessarily believe in. While earned media may require more effort, it ensures that brand and reputation will last beyond the clickbait of a passing feature article. Without taking the steps to create brand loyalty to consumers and build proven credibility in the market, the only barrier of entry to feature placement is money. If this trend continues, how will we be able to trust what we read?
It is also important to question the ethics of this, and the future implications of being featured purely because one has the budget to do so. The influencer movement is a huge part of the problem, because so many people rely on endorsements to tell them how to live, not completely realizing that the average influencer can be bought, regardless of the product. When an influencer, whose sole credential is “Instagram Content Creation,” feels comfortable asking for $6000+ dollars for a feature post requiring ten minutes of their time, with a reach of tens of thousands of users, we have to question the market that is being created. When a company pays for link placement on a publication that hasn’t even seen the product; or worse, likes the product but requires payment before promotion, it feeds the proverbial beast. There is a difference between fair compensation/competition and greed.
Entrepreneurs and PR professionals need to start having a conversation about the importance of patience when building a brand. A reputation cannot be bought. Creating a lasting impression in a competitive world comes from earned media and the work that it requires. We need to get back to ethical marketing: promoting the brands we believe in. We must change and grow with the digital times, but that does not mean we have to sacrifice our integrity in the process.
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