The Dangers of Pay To Play Publications And Press In Marketing


If you run a business or are an entrepreneur, I am sure you have been asked to have your business featured in a pay-to-play publication or press opportunity.

It is common for businesses to entertain the idea of participating in pay-to-play opportunities and even will go as far as looking at how to incorporate that into their marketing budget.

Before you do that, here are some things to be cautious of so that you can make marketing choices that will affect your business positively.

What is a Pay-To-Play Press or Publication?

A pay-to-play publication is a magazine, or blog, or another type of feature that offers the opportunity for you to be featured if you pay them.

It is a marketing tactic that involves paying publications and press in order to get your product or service featured, reviewed, or highlighted.

They will typically charge you a fee, but some may charge in other ways, such as requiring you to buy ad space.

Although there are some pay-to-play publications that are actually legitimate – most are not so we will focus on the majority in this blog.

Example of a Pay-To-Play Publication.

Below is a proposition from a magazine just this week trying to get me to become part of their publication. They never mention any type of money upfront and try to hook you with their pitch first.

Furthermore, when asking about money, they often act like it is not a big deal, you can see this below in this exchange.

As you can see in the next exchange when talking about money, they avoid the real answer and still try to hook you. I kept engaging in this conversation so I could use it as reference for this blog post to give you a real life example.

As you can see below in the next string of messages, they finally admit that it is advertorial. They also state that it is just “$1250” like that’s not a lot of money for some people. Then they push a payment arrangement.


Most places would keep pushing, but they got the hint. Same with your goals and visions – it’s best to gain recognition from authentic opportunities and your own merit.

Another example

With this example below, they are right up front about what they offer as well as the price they are asking. If you go to their website, it looks really convincing, even to someone like myself that knows a scam website when I see it.

Next, I took a moment to look up their social media and was blown away that anyone would take them seriously.

On Facebook, they had 290 followers, on Instagram 124 followers and on Twitter 1 follower. Social proof is really important as a consideration if a person or business might be scamming you. Again, don’t fall for these scams. It is not worth it.

Side Note: Also Avoid Pay-To-Play Awards

Just a quick note that pay-to-play awards are typically scams as well. There are a couple out there in various industries that are in fact serious and have merit that ask for a fee to submit to, however, it is not the typical. Learn  more about pay-to-play vanity award scams here. 


The Problem with Pay-to-Play Publications and Press.

Pay-to-play publications are not real publications, they’re just a way for businesses to pay for features.

These pieces are often written by the company itself, or by a freelancer who has been paid by the company and can be published without any editing or fact-checking.

According to Wikipedia: An advertorial is an advertisement in the form of editorial content. The term “advertorial” is a blend of the words “advertisement” and “editorial.” Merriam-Webster dates the origin of the word to 1946.

These pieces are not unbiased and do not have the same standards as legitimate publications. You can’t trust them. They are not reliable, and they certainly aren’t reputable. Pay-to-play publications are also not worth the money, as they won’t help you get more clients or customers or generate leads.

Advertorials disguised as press.

Pay-to-play press is also known as advertorials or native advertising. basically, they are paid advertising.

It’s essentially advertising disguised as editorial content that is often published within another publication that doesn’t disclose its relationships with advertisers in any way (with some exceptions).

Basically, you are paying for an advertisement disguised as a feature.

Here is a brief History of Ads Disguised as News which is full of factual history and a little humor. 

Pay-to-Play is similar to “As Seen On Or Featured On”

Pay-to-play publications are not real publications, they’re just a way for businesses to pay for features. These places are often very similar to the “As Seen On Or Featured On” which is the best scam in every industry.

Again the idea is that you are again paying for something that is disguised as something else and is not authentic or reputable.

As Seen On logo examples of CBS news, ABC, NBC, and Fox.

Do your research for yourself and others.

It is important for you to do your research on any publication or press opportunity offered to you, but it is just as important when working with others to check to see if their press and publication are legitimate.

Below are some tips on how to tell the difference between a legitimate application and an advertorial. However, here are 4 tips to tell if a company you are working with has legitimate press:


  1. Check to see if the publication they are saying that they have been featured in a legitimate publication.
  2. If they are listing it on their website, see if you can click on the reference to that press and view the actual press.
  3. Understand that a Press Release is not press or media. A Press Release is just that and anyone can put out a press release – even you.
  4. Their website reviews look weird or not real. They do not look like real people or companies. Do your research, I bet you are right.

How can I tell the difference between a legitimate publication and an advertorial?

Sometimes it is hard to tell if a publication is legitimate and most businesses and entrepreneurs know that press and publications can help improve their social proof which in turn can improve your backlinking strategies, SEO, and client confidence in your brand.

Having a quality marketing strategy with campaigns will help you improve your reach, help you connect to your target audience, and grow your organic reach.


Here are some 5 tips on how to tell the difference between a legitimate publication or an advertorial:
  1. Look at the publication’s website. Is it based on a template or does it look unique?
  2. Look at the publication’s social media accounts, especially Facebook and Twitter. Are they full of ads and sponsored posts?
  3. Check out their editorial calendar to see when they post new content and if they have any regular features that are “sponsored.”
  4. Read through the mission statement of the publication and look for any mentions of being an advertorial platform. If there is nothing there, email them asking about it directly (see next point).
  5. Check out who has written articles in their past issues—if no names jump out at you as being reputable writers, this could be an indication that this is not a legitimate outlet worthy of your time or attention!

Paid advertising is great when…

Paid advertising is great when you know you are paying for advertising that is not disguised as a press feature.

You want to know where your money is going and use it effectively in your marketing strategies. You want your marketing dollars to work for you not against you. Make sure you avoid pay-or-play scams at all costs so your money will be used in the most efficient way.

Traditional advertising is great. Take that money and invest in Google Ads, advertise on social media with targeted Facebook ads or even take out an ad locally in a publication or on a local website to help create brand awareness and reach potential customers.


Pay-to-play publications are a great way to waste money. It’s not that they don’t work; it’s just that some of them aren’t legitimate and can be easily identified as advertorials.

You have to be careful with the publications you choose and make sure they’re a good fit for your brand, otherwise, the whole thing could end up backfiring on you in the long run.

In conclusion, it is important to avoid pay-to-play publications and press. If you want to be successful in your marketing efforts then you need to find legitimate publications that will accept your story idea and allow them to be published.

It is better to have 2 pieces of legitimate press than 30 pieces of nonsense that do nothing for your brand.