Paying for content: That's a line you don't cross

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A PR Week/Manning Selvage & Lee survey of 266 CMOs, marketing VPs and marketing directors revealed that nearly half their companies have paid for placement in editorial content. But an overwhelming majority of voters in an Advertising Age online poll said paying for placement is crossing a very important line.

Most respondents said credibility is the primary reason not to cross the line, and that readers will stop trusting the publication or organization. "There is a hard line between PR and journalism, and it is there for a reason. How can we trust the credibility of a newspaper if it is literally selling its editorial viewpoints?" said Chavon Mitchell, an assistant account manager in Cincinnati.

Another concern voters voiced beyond the ethical considerations was the reaction of readers. "Nothing makes your readership lose faith in you faster than a whiff of paid content," said Lisa Trottier, a freelance editor in San Francisco.

But the issue isn't so black and white, many said. Not every publication should necessarily be held to the same standards. Darren Eng, president-founder of Sponsorship Group, said it depends on the media organization in question: "A lot depends on the context of the media."

The church-and-state divide that dictates editorial ethics shouldn't be breached, regardless of the media organization or the reason, according to Art Heller, president, Heller Marketing and Communications. "If an advertiser can force his commercial message into entertainment programming today, can he intrude his opinions, points of view, etc., into news programming tomorrow?" he asked.
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