Paid Media Placements Are Not Ad Copy: Effective Writing Matters

March 27, 2019
By iQ Staff
A figure with a megaphone projects colorful infographics into the air.

Paid media placements are an increasingly popular way to disseminate messages and educate relevant target audiences. For a paid placement, companies typically pay a fee in exchange for full editorial control over the resulting article. Earned media, by contrast, does not entail any financial transaction, and the angle of the piece is at the discretion of the editorial staff.

Given the investment of money and time needed to produce these paid placements, effective writing is crucial. The days of special “advertorial” sections are waning, and paid placements no longer look like thinly veiled advertisements. They are information-rich and issue focused, meant to foster engagement and dialogue.

Communications agencies are frequently tasked with writing or editing these pieces. For some PR professionals, this is a new challenge. We’re accustomed to placing articles and analyzing the results of the coverage, but aren’t typically in a position to give a reporter feedback on the quality of his or her writing.


The best paid content should be indiscernible from earned media on a news website.


But, unfortunately, that is not always the case. Sometimes an initial draft includes all of the relevant, need-to-know information about the product or service you want to promote but it reads more like marketing copy than a news article. If you don’t have an editorial background, it can be difficult to pinpoint what exactly is wrong with the story or know how to give constructive criticism to improve the article.

In those situations, here are a few areas to evaluate and offer feedback to improve the content:

  1. Start with the headline.

    Does the headline read like something you’d find in a magazine or in a brochure? The headline is surprisingly helpful and important for guiding writers in the rest of the content. Titles frame the rest of the story and gets at the heart of what an article is supposed to be about.

  2. Follow up with a strong lede.

    The lede is the introductory sentence or paragraph and it should be snappy or interesting enough to pull readers in and compel them to continue reading. Most stories written by the editorial department have a strong lede, so your paid content should have one too.

  3. Structure.

    Articles need to be well organized and content should flow seamlessly. If the article seems confusing or doesn’t transition well from one idea to the next, ask to have the article restructured or potentially rewritten.

  4. Remember the target audience.

    Make sure the article is relevant and speaks to the publications’ audience.

  5. Localize the content.

    If you are working with a regional publication, it may make sense to localize the content. Ask the writer to think through why the product or service is compelling to the community or people in that specific region. Does it make sense to integrate specific sites and locations into the copy? Readers are more likely to trust the information in the article if it is customized to them.


We are living in an era where paid and earned media is comingled on all platforms, and by virtually all media outlets and news aggregators. If you decide that a paid placement makes sense, it’s worth taking the time to properly review and edit the copy to ensure that it is as effective as possible.