There’s been much hand-wringing lately over the threat of paid content and other editorial-like content marketing to real journalism. Whoa!

Yes, the esteemed Atlantic should have been clearer about the paid content from the Church of Scientology. Mind you, given the high IQ, education and income of your typical Atlantic reader, I’m surprised people didn’t catch the bright yellow tab that proclaimed Sponsor Content or put two and two together from the boastful headline.

I think much of the fuss comes from the fact that site advertorials are relatively new. Moreover, the Atlantic should not have placed the article in prime real estate.

We’ve been seeing paid content in print for decades. We’ve all read guest posts that we know are unpaid advertising masquerading as information. Then there’s all the paid content that’s flooding Facebook and Twitter.

I don’t fall for the mom-invents-wrinkle-cure type of paid content that clogs my Facebook feed. I can figure out a post is promoting an affiliate, even before I spot the disclaimer. I don’t expect breaking news from those Special Editions stuffed into my daily newspaper. Media Literacy 101.


The intelligent people who buy my products and services get it. If you’re marketing to Honey Boo Boo, you can stop reading now.

With media pressure to publish 24/7 and education the linchpin of content marketing, native advertising, or whatever term you want to dress it up as, is here to stay.

For writers and other content producers, the main challenge is to come across as the real thing. Paid content sponsors will never be as objective as real journalists. But there’s a lot you can do to make it look that way.

10 tips

Here are my 10 tips to avoid the pitfalls that have undermined advertorials and similar faux advertising for many years.

  1. Use a typeface and other visual features that mimic the channel you’re trying to blend into. If you follow your own brand guidelines, you’ll look like a solider marching into the jungle in full military dress when you should be in camouflage.
  2. Figure out and follow the style rules for capitalization and punctuation of the site you’re placing content in. You probably have to lose the capital letters on job titles, department names and Big Concepts. You may have to break up with serial or Oxford commas, as in apples, peaches, and pears.
  3. Start with the news, not a boastful claim, following the inverted pyramid style taught in journalism school. Cram the news into the lead, then unfold the details in order of importance to your audience. The article should peter out, rather than build to a call to action.
  4. Be economical with your words.
  5. Hire writers and designers who are experienced in the media you’re paying to be featured in, not bargain basement Internet MacCreators.
  6. Refrain from too much repetition of the name of your executive and product or keywords.
  7. When attributing quotes, don’t substitute “exclaimed” or other colorful verbs for “said.”
  8. Stay away from adjectives, adverbs and opinions.
  9. Don’t create make-believe spokespeople. Be real.
  10. Tailor each piece of paid content to the idiosyncrasies of individual channels. Avoid one-size-fits-all content for mass media campaigns.

In short, you need to produce content that mimics the people who work for the channel you’re placing it in. Most of this advice applies not only to serious big media sites, but also to social media.

Imitation is the best flattery

It works for news releases and media backgrounders too. Busy reporters should be able to copy, paste and add their bylines to your content.

In fact, that’s the biggest, perhaps only, compliment you should want to be paid. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery and the most effective form of paid content.

I could go on with more pitfalls native advertisers need to avoid, but instead let me toss this back to you. What advice can you add?

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10 tips to make paid content pay off–or why imitation flatters
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