If it sounds like it’s too good to be true….

National PublicityPicture this:  You have a relatively new business – one that has received some positive publicity.  But nothing has prepared you for a call from a television production company that wants to feature you on a national television show.  Wow – What luck!

You haven’t heard of this program, but the producer drops the name of a famous broadcaster and indicates that he or she is affiliated with the program.  You are impressed.  The producer sets up an interview day and time for you because they have to see if you are a “good fit” for the program.  During the interview, you are told that you will be responsible for paying $20,000 in production fees to produce your feature story.  Apparently, being a “good fit” means being willing to pay.

This month, one of our clients received two of these calls.  Our client refers all calls from the news media to our office, and we check out the media outlets and reporters with which we are unfamiliar to see if they are legitimate and, if so, what kind of stories they do.

These callers gave us pause.  For one thing, they didn’t want to talk to the public relations person; they only wanted to talk to the CEO.  That’s a red flag.  Most reporters or producers do not object to having their interview requests screened by a public relations person.

Second, in each case, the “producer” said he wanted to interview the CEO to see if the company would qualify for their program.  This is nonsense.  By the time reporters call for an interview, they already are interested in doing a story.

After investigating, we discovered that these programs were “pay for play” schemes.  Pay for Play in the media has been around for quite some time, but never promoted in such an underhanded way.  Many magazines – especially trade magazines – will tell you upfront that if you buy an ad you can get editorial space as well.  The same goes for infomercials – those paid-for time slots that promote products in a talk show setting.  But only in the past few years have we seen this type of deceptive approach.

How do you tell Pay for Play from the real thing?  You should immediately get off the phone if:

1.  You have never heard of the program, while the person on the phone is insisting it’s a big deal.  If you’ve never heard of it, it either doesn’t exist or isn’t worth your time.

2.  The person calling wants to interview the business owner or top executive to see if they “qualify” or are a “good fit” for their program.

3.  The caller is insistent about talking only to the business owner or top executive.

Posted by Margot Dimond

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