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Media insights: editorial vs sponsored stories

Does your brand have a story worth sharing? Find out whether editorial or sponsored content is the way to go when working with NZ media.

So, you have a story about your brand that you would love to shout from the rooftops but you don’t know where to start when it comes to approaching mainstream media. While you have your social media platforms covered, it’s the big players in the industry – the news websites, primetime TV and top-selling magazines – that can really amplify your messaging and attract attention to your brand. 

In a rollercoaster media landscape, there are only really two pathways you can journey down to the holy grail of media coverage; Editorial or Sponsored Content. 

Scope Media is the only PR and communications agency in the lower South Island that specialises in both. Getting a free story in mainstream media is notoriously challenging as media outlets don’t give away free publicity for specific brands or products – but with the right expertise, existing media relationships and an intriguing story pitch by your PR agency, it is entirely possible to achieve authentic (and free) editorial.  

Meanwhile, sponsored content and advertorial-type stories are now more in vogue than ever. They are a modern addition to NZ media and can be a great way to promote your brand in a subtle, non-salesy way. The downside is that they can be expensive and many businesses waste the opportunity to make an impact with yawn-inducing stories that don’t garner clicks. 

With two award-winning, former national journalists on the team, Scope Media is across what specific media outlets need and can fine-tune your story angle to pique an editor’s interest, whether your goal is to appear on TV, in a glossy magazine or on a national news website.  

Here are our pros and cons of Editorial vs Sponsored Content for brands seeking media coverage in 2023:  

Editorial (earned media) 

Pros 

  • Nothing beats an impartially produced, merit-based story in the media – this is earned media for your brand. It’s genuine, authentic and holds more gravitas and trust in the reader than a paid story can.  
  • It’s 100% free. Even by using the services of a specialist PR agency to develop your pitch and secure your editorial, the investment is significantly less than paying for sponsored content. 
  • The story is usually well written or produced by an experienced journalist at the media outlet. 
  • At Scope Media, we also create press releases which are designed to be a ‘story on a plate’ for busy journalists. These press releases can be repurposed on your website with integrated Search Engine Optimisation to bump up your position in Google. 

Cons 

  • It’s difficult to achieve, particularly for commercial purposes. Journalists are under resourced and pressed for time, so if you’re going to approach them, you need to present an excellent story pitch or it’s straight to the Recycle Bin. This is where an experienced PR professional comes in – it’s our job to create a worthwhile story pitch about your business, merging the line between what you want to say and what people want to read. 
  • There is no control over copy or timing. As opposed to advertorial, editorial is 100% at the discretion of the publication’s editor or TV producer. This means that you don’t get to see a story until it has run and have no influence on timings. 
  • It’s not guaranteed. Due to the unpredictable nature of news, a story can be pulled or delayed at the last minute. It’s rare, but it can happen. 

Sponsored Content (paid media)

Pros 

  • Sponsored content is a piece of brand journalism that you can utilise on your website and push through your social media channels. 
  • It’s a great way to convey your key messages as you have full control over the content and timing. It’s also guaranteed. 
  • It tends to have higher engagement rates than traditional advertising. 
  • For online publications, there could be an opportunity to integrate SEO and backlinks to and from your brand website, which helps bump up your position in Google. 
  • The story is usually well written or produced by an experienced journalist. 

Cons 

  • It’s pricey. For example, a 500-word story on one of NZ’s biggest news websites costs between $5-$20k. For international publications, you’re looking at upwards of $50k for the likes of Forbes. 
  • It’s clearly labelled as a paid-for story, particularly on mainstream news websites and magazines. These mediums define the story as a “promotion” or “sponsored” to differentiate it from editorial. 
  • It’s tricky to get right. As a form of advertising, sponsored content can hold less influence in the eye of the reader when done incorrectly – that’s why it’s crucial to have a strong story angle for engagement success and long-term brand awareness. 

Whatever you decide when considering media relations as part of your marketing strategy, always put your audience first. Your story should always go where your audience hangs out.  

If you’re keen to find out more, feel free to contact us for a no-obligation chat. 

Written By Rebecca Williamson
An accomplished journalist, writer and editor, Rebecca has worked on some of NZ’s top-selling magazines – including Woman’s Day, CLEO and Good Health – and knows how to craft compelling copy to get your company or organisation noticed. As a PR strategist and skilled storyteller, Bec’s day-to-day varies from creating effective communications plans and newsworthy media releases to editing bespoke publications and achieving high-value TV, print and online media coverage for Scope Media partners. She also has a knack for the digital space – specifically, how to boost a brand’s online presence, and writing SEO-loaded web copy, blogs and thought leadership articles that people want to read and engage with.
rebecca@scopemedia.co.nz

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About Scope Media

Scope Media is a boutique marketing communications consultancy that specialises in digital PR. The consultancy helps brands gain visibility through the power of authentic storytelling, personal connections and digital insights. Scope Media offers strategic communications, crisis communications and reputation management, community engagement and stakeholder relations, digital PR, media relations and media releases, editorial and special publications, website copywriting for SEO and digital advertising.