Sponsored vs. Earned Content: What You Need to Know

Writing articles and placing them in industry publications is an excellent way to boost credibility and notoriety of your company. Writing a piece that your target market finds useful and placing it in an outlet that they browse regularly can do wonders for your brand. Furthermore, this is an effective tactic when your company may not have news or reasons to pitch reporters to gain media coverage.

A byline is an article that discusses something relevant or newsworthy and is placed as editorial content in a publication. Most of the big publications run this type of content, but their standards are high. Placing a byline can keep your name and company in the news even when you aren’t making any significant updates, partnerships, or fundraising announcements.

It’s important to recognize the difference between sponsored and earned opportunities because the distinction is getting murky. Often, founders will try to pass off promotional content as a byline, but editors are becoming more and more strict and flagging that as sponsored content.

Here is what you need to know about the difference between paid and earned opportunities.

Paid or sponsored content

Sponsored articles replicate the look of an editorial piece, but they are paid for by a brand and typically promotional or biased. Since they resemble regular content, there has been pushback and controversy since sometimes consumers cannot tell that it isn’t an advertorial piece.

The way publications mark sponsored content varies from outlet to outlet. The rules are that it has to be clear and visible, so consumers know that this is not regular content but instead paid for by a brand that is likely promoting a product or trend. Pricing varies as well. The publications with more authority charge much higher fees than publications with less readership.

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Brands like sponsored content because they can write a piece that promotes their product or that supports a concept that relates to the product or service. The articles do not have to be unbiased and can present one-sided arguments. For some outlets, the articles don’t even have to be well-researched, and editorial guidelines are limited.

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What you need to know about earned media

The basic concept of earned media is getting a reporter to write about your company without paying them. To do this, brands have to have a great story to tell and understand the reporter’s beat. For smaller companies, that can be difficult since big brands dominate the news cycle.

To get around this, and to keep your name in the media, you can write a byline. However, for the more prominent publications (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, etc.), the article has to be well-written, timely, unique, and appeal to the audience of the outlet. Most importantly, the article cannot be biased and should present a fair argument.

What happens often is someone will write an article that describes their product or service and try to pass this off as earned media. Writing an article that promotes your company’s offerings, even without naming your company directly, is sponsored content. And editors, more and more, are flagging this content because they want unbiased editorials rather than self-promoting pieces.

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If you want to earn a media placement in the form of a byline, it’s vital to take a step back and make sure the article doesn’t just favorably describe what your company can do. Instead, look at a trend that exists in your industry and write a well-researched, unbiased take on it. Give thoughtful advice or expert commentary on a subject that relates to your company but not directly. Or, just make it a sponsored post and pay for placement.

For more information on how to create a personal content strategy, check out this blog post.

Nora LearyComment