Sponsored content versus editorial coverage

Trish Varker-Miles discusses how to choose the best way to promote your brand.

The media landscape has become increasingly complex over the last five years; however, the options and outlets to promote your brand have increased dramatically.

Knowing when to use what tactic is vital in promoting your brand and utilising your budget in the best possible way, but at the same time the landscape can also be challenging to navigate.

When I first started in PR, over 15 years ago, the term ‘sponsored content’ didn’t exist. It was called an ‘advertorial’ or a ‘paid promotion’, generally appearing in print, and this is essentially what it remains.

The primary difference is that there are now more outlets for ‘content’ other than print with the emergence of blogs, EDMs and social media platforms.

Sponsored content can now also take the form of video content or be communicated by social media influencers, when previously it sat largely in the domain of print media.

You can usually identify a piece of paid content in print or online as media outlets disclose it as a ‘paid promotion’ or ‘sponsored content’ at the top or bottom of the article.

This is not always the case for sponsored content on Instagram or Facebook, however, as in Australia paid posts are not always disclosed by social media influencers.

Sponsored content is not to be confused with editorial coverage.

Knowing when to use what tactic is vital in promoting your brand and utilising your budget in the best possible way, but at the same time the landscape can also be challenging to navigate.

The major difference between sponsored content and PR is that, like advertising, you pay the media outlet to run the story for you.

Your PR agency, alternatively, is generally engaged on a project fee or monthly retainer to develop story angles for you that will generate coverage and are newsworthy enough to run without paying the media outlet.

That means your story must be genuinely newsworthy and of interest to the publication’s target audience.

This is where a PR agent can best advise what will and won’t work editorially.

What are the benefits of sponsored content?

  • When you want guaranteed coverage to communicate your story.
  • You want the story to only be about you.
  • When you have a great story to tell but it’s not necessarily topical or trending at the moment and editorial coverage isn’t an option.
  • When you want more control over the message and no surprises.
  • When the publication you wish to appear in only accepts paid articles – which is typical in niche trade media.

What are the cons of sponsored content?

  • You may have a disclaimer at the top or bottom of your sponsored content indicating that it is a ‘paid promotion’. This will alert readers that you have paid for the story placement – which essentially is a drawback as your readership will know it’s a paid piece and this can influence credibility.

Who writes the sponsored content?

  • Generally, the media outlet will write the article on your behalf to suit the style and target audience of their readership. Your PR agency may get involved to provide an angle, information and data, as well as the general direction of the article.

Can I read my sponsored content article before it is published?

  • Generally, the answer here is yes, you can, because you are paying for the coverage – but all publications are different. Keep in mind you may not have complete editorial control as each publication works differently; some won’t let you make too many changes if they drafted the copy.

Ultimately, media outlets need to survive if we want to continue to consume them and enjoy reading them.

Without advertising and sponsored content dollars, publications suffer. Sponsored content is a way to keep publications and websites in business.

In some instances, sponsored content can be the best way to get your message across, while in others PR coverage is more appropriate and powerful.

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Trish Varker-Miles

Trish Varker-Miles is the Director of The Trish Nicol Agency specialising in Property and Lifestyle PR, Influencer Marketing, Events and Content Creation.