Paying for articles in Iraq
In the public relations profession, there are people with the title of media relations coordinator or media specialist. Like salesmen, they spend their days selling products or ideas. Except instead of selling to consumers, they pitch reporters and editors with the hope of receiving press.
Millions of dollars are spent on these campaigns. I know, because I managed quite a few while working for a major marketing communications firm. Companies target reporters by creating their own studies that may appear to be newsworthy. They send reporters press releases, interviewees and materials or statistics that may help a writer out a little on deadline. For example, I once represented an animal health manufacturer that created a West Nile virus vaccine for horses. As part of our media relations campaign, we sent all the horse writers in America a press release, which included national statistics, and then followed up with reporters weeks later. Had I had a larger budget, I might have sent them something neat, like a mosquito suspended in a vile, and had a better success rate than 5 percent. The point is, targeting media is an effective and cheap way of promoting your product or idea.
I promise you that in almost every article you’ve ever read that contained a product mention there was probably a public relations person behind the scenes, scurrying to get his client some press. The same is in politics. Politicians have press advisers. So do CEOs, football coaches and so on. Almost every word spoken by a professional to the media comes from a strategic platform that benefits their position.
So with that being said, it’s become known that we are paying to place articles in Iraqi newspapers. According to this article, politicians are gravely concerned. I wonder if they were gravely concerned about the paid VIOXX articles in Newsweek.
While in Mosul, we never did this. We didn’t have to. We sent out daily press releases to the local media, and the newspapers ran them word for word. We had built such professional bonds with the reporters in Mosul, that after the Abu Ghraib incident, reporters brought us photography for review. Believe it or not, the photos were worse than what surfaced online. But they were obvious fakes. After one look, my friend pointed out that American soldiers do not wear white T-shirts and we tuck our pants into our boots. They took his word and never ran the photos. We also invited them to school openings, bridge openings and hospital ribbon cuttings. The Iraqi reporters wanted to report the good news. Problem was, the insurgents read their newspapers and many of them were killed for writing positive or pro coalition stories.
With that being said, I think it’s OK to pay for print placement for two reasons: the Iraqi journalists take great risks in covering what their people need to read; and it’s a source of revenue for organizations that have never had freedom of press and still don’t fully comprehend advertising. But I am only in agreement if the placements are true.
The Iraqi people need to know what’s going on in their country, whether it comes in advertising form or an opinion article.