As the world turns and brand journalism elevates to the forefront of the content overload experience known as the internet, the desire for increased visibility and placement has become the holy grail for comms and PR.

For the longest time the role of PR for brands was to pitch stories to media and their journalists with the goal of getting coveted earned (read: free) media exposure.

Brands love to say, “We don’t pay for Media, we are Comms/PR.”

Of course they are paying the person doing the job of pitching the story, so it is kind of ironic, but nonetheless they are right when they say they don’t pay for the exposure they seek to get.

This must be because the coverage they can bring their outlets is so monumental that those being pitched couldn’t say no, or they would like to think.

Influence Marketing and The New PR Pitch

In case you missed it, I’ve recently discussed the emerging trend of the online influencer. This demographic is comprised of writers, forward thinkers, and occasionally (and often the most compelling type) the successful, experienced industry practitioner.

With the growing market visibility many online influencers have, brands have become increasingly excited to work with these people. While occasionally (and continuously more often) in a paid capacity, many companies still love to pitch these people to contribute content for free in exchange for the publicity that it brings.

This pitch is comprised of a communications person reaching out to a successful blogger or other influencer and asking them to write an article in exchange for them posting it on their site and occasionally driving a link back to the influencer’s site. While sometimes lucrative, this practice is becoming increasingly suspect as brands struggle to drive meaningful metrics to their sites.

Sidebar: Impressions May Be a Metric, But It’s A Dumb One

Before I go any further, these pitches for free content often are rooted in a commitment of high impression numbers.

You’ll hear something like, “Your post will receive 1,000,000 Impressions on our site.”

Just ask them how many people read the blog and to skip impression numbers because those numbers rarely mean anything. All that matters is who clicks, reads and takes action on the content.

But I digress…

PR Needs To Just Shut Up and Pitch Stories To The Right Places

Sure it is easy for a PR professional to ask for content from influencers or even offer their “Free Content” to sites in exchange for certain exposure, but most brands need something more.

Corporate PR and their agencies need to put a little effort into their PR pitches and start finding creative ways to get their content placed on sites that are going to drive meaningful exposure to the brand and to those who create the story.

Sure there may be cases where a niche product story fits great on one blog or another, but as a whole, big brands need their story to be told to a big enough audience to actually move their “Brand Story” forward.  This means going back to the roots of PR and building relationships with outlets that can really help a company and not just placing fodder on a bunch of blogs.

And If You Want To Work With Influencers

For brands that still believe influencers are the way to go, it is important that they realize the expectation of taking someone’s valuable time and getting something for free, is a big mistake. In the world of social and digital influence, reciprocity is a core value. Meaning that you have to give to get.

If the PR efforts by the brand can genuinely help both the influencer and the brand then this is where there is a real opportunity to connect. For instance, if you ask a well-respected writer to generate content for your company, then make an effort to place it on a site that gets more visibility for that person. That is what makes it a win.  But just to place it on some brand owned site that gets read by a handful of people is most often a waste of that person’s time (and yours).  In these cases, even if you get them to do it, you’ll lose their support after one post when they see that it and realize you wasted their time.

In short, if exposure is what you offer, then make sure you go and get it. Give influencers metrics that matter and recognize that relationships work when all parties benefit. In the old model, reporters needed stories, PR had them. The reporters get to break the story first, PR gets the credit for placement with their client, and it’s a win-win.

Now, because the sphere of influence has widened immeasurably and anyone can pitch or write, the reciprocity model is disrupted and more complex

The good news is, there’s still room for all parties to exist and thrive, but only if we adapt.

In a day where many of the most influential writers aren’t “Ad Sponsored,” their time and allegiance is how they drive income.

But for goodness sake, quit short-circuiting the work that is most needed by brands from their PR teams. Find and connect your brand to places that will drive greater amounts of the right exposure, and if you don’t want to do that, then maybe it is time to recognize you are in the wrong field?