Pay for play? No way!

I had an initially disturbing but ultimately rewarding exchange of emails with a publicist yesterday.

It started out as a routine story pitch — one of dozens I get each day from various PR firms around the Valley and beyond. It doesn’t matter what the story idea was and it doesn’t matter who submitted it. What matters is what happened after I explained, apologetically, that we were not at the moment assigning any new articles.

I was shocked when I saw her response.

“Is everything ‘pay to play’ in your magazine right now? We could take out a small ad with the story as well,” she wrote.

I had to take a deep breath — several deep breaths, really. I had to resist my initial impulse, which was to fire off an indignant reply.

One characteristic that runs deep in our company — and I give Marketing Director MaryAnn Ortiz-Lieb full credit for first articulating this — is the importance of protecting the reputation and integrity of the Raising Arizona Kids brand. No matter what. No matter how frustrated you might feel. No matter how insulted you might feel. No matter how unreasonable someone else’s demands or questions may appear.

So I resisted my fierce desire to send off a response. But writing is pivotal to my internal processing ability, so to make myself feel better, I went ahead and wrote what I was feeling. Then I saved it in my “drafts” folder.

About two hours later, I looked at what I’d written and realized how hysterical my words would sound to a young professional who was just trying to do her job and look out for the best interests of her client.

So I started over. Without any sense of the screaming outrage that shot through my fingers on the first draft, I expressed my need to clarify how our company approaches the pressure we often feel from a changing marketplace where advertisers are rightly seeking creative ways to get their messages out and publications, radio/TV stations and Internet media are wrongly allowing them to pay for what looks like objective, unbiased editorial coverage.

“Just for the record,” I wrote, “nothing is ‘pay for play’ in our magazine. We do not operate that way and I find it very distressing that others in the media are blurring the lines between editorial and advertising. I have to evaluate story ideas based on my needs and space restrictions. I am not in a position to assign a story on this topic at this time and have filed your suggestion for possible future consideration.”

And then, after reading it a few times to be absolutely sure I was not sending it in anger, I hit “send.”

And was joyously relieved when I immediately heard back.

“That is great to hear and makes me very happy,” she wrote. “I find useful information in your magazine, so I didn’t think it was [paid content] but so many magazines are [doing that] these days that it is hard to find one that isn’t.”

She then pitched a different story idea — one that I immediately knew would resonate with our audience.

For extraordinary ideas like that, ideas that speak to an understanding of our readership and respect for our professionalism, I will always make exceptions to my self-imposed rules.

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