The vanity pitch: when is pay-to-play okay?

The vanity pitch: when is pay-to-play okay?

“We are very pleased to inform you that, your company have been shortlisted for the upcoming special edition of Industry Tech Outlook magazine by our editorial board to be honored as “10 Best …”

“We are very pleased to inform your company have been shortlisted for the upcoming special edition of Industry Tech Outlook magazine by our editorial board to be honored as “Top 10 …”

“We are very pleased to inform, you have been shortlisted for the upcoming annual edition in Industry Era Review magazine by our editorial board to be honored as “10 Best Technology Leaders…”

A client recently forwarded me several emails that had been accumulating in their inbox for some months (the quotations above are taken from a few of them). Each one congratulates them for being “shortlisted” for an award or special company profile. Each one follows a template. You can see the template at work in the subject lines:


and in the email content:

Although they all claim to be from different editors and publications, when considered side-by-side, it’s easy to see that they are all being generated from a single entity. Still, these pitches cause the C-Level execs they are targeted at to wonder if there’s an opportunity to be had (or worse, a great opportunity about to be missed).

Individually, these “honours” and “exclusive offers” can feel exciting, flattering, urgent, and imperative to act on. If, like me, you’ve seen hundreds of them, you’ll recognize them for what they are: pay-to-play advertising pitches.

Here, I share a few tips and best practices for assessing if these offers are a good fit for your marketing mix.

Understand the offer

These offers are carefully constructed to tweak a part of the brain that desires recognition, and all human beings have this brain-part. After exciting the recipient’s amygdala, the pitch leverages that impulse to entice with an opportunity for special recognition in a noisy marketplace.

Recognize the vanity-play selling tactic at work to approach it with the correct mindset. Rather than thinking of these as exclusive offers or big opportunities, recognize that they are sponsored advertising options.

Note the several variations of these pitches, such as:

  • The opportunity to be interviewed as an expert on a national online show
  • An invitation to be included on a radio show
  • A special full-page corporate profile
  • Being short-listed for an industry award (which you then have to apply for)

No matter the theme, they all have a price tag. Most pitch the cost as being for something other than the exposure—e.g. you’re paying for reprints or a rights to use a video, etc.

Return to goals and priorities

To evaluate an advertising option, first consider your brand’s goals and priorities for advertising and promotion. Examples could be:

  • Increase visibility within a specific market
  • Make it easier for sales team to approach new prospects
  • Generate new leads
  • Close more sales
  • Establish greater credibility with an audience
  • Increase social media following
  • Increase a library of downloadable marketing resources

If advertising and promotion is not currently part of your strategy, consider why this opportunistic option seems appealing.

Assess value

With goals and priorities as a guide, you can now evaluate the offer.

Consider the options, channels, and vehicles at your disposal and determine which are both feasible and valuable. Ask these specific questions of each option under consideration:

  • Why are we considering this option?
  • What audience will it reach? How do we know that?
  • What effort and resources are required on our part? (See the next section below)
  • What are the parameters, inclusions, and limitations of this option?
  • Can the success be measured? If so, how will we measure it?
  • Will we own the intellectual property/output? If so, for how long?
  • What will be the quality of the output? How do we know that, can we see examples, and how much input do we get?
  • Will we be able to reuse and repurpose this tool? How much leverage can we get from it?
  • Does this option provide something important that other options do not?
  • If all our competitors also participate, will we still be able to stand out in this medium?

Make the most of your decision

You may decide that a pay-to-play advertising/sponsorship option is a good fit. Or, the process of considering an option may spark other realizations about how to approach your goals.

Once you’ve made a decision to invest in advertising, you owe it to your brand to make the most of it. Pay-to-play is NOT pay-and-forget! Be proactive and involved. These best practices will help:

  1. Control the message. You’re paying for it, so be sure the product is well scripted, on-message, on-brand, and helpful to reaching the goals.
  2. Know where it fits within your marketing and communications mix and be sure you maximize it for that fit.
  3. Put your best effort forward. Provide high-quality graphics. Properly prepare executives for interviews. Prepare the interviewer, too, with well considered conversation points and questions. Perform all the usual quality control that you would on any design or content associated with your brand.
  4. Get your money’s worth. Coordinate and engage all your marketing and communications efforts to leverage the opportunity, including your website, social media, email outreach, sales team, etc.

I hope this is helpful in your decision making about pay-to-play advertising and sponsorship. If you are unclear about goals and priorities for a brand or marketing effort, or if you’re uncertain about the message to convey, please talk to us.