The Paywall Conundrum: 4 Ways to Maximize Your Media Coverage


You’ve seen it before: Your company and PR team work to identify the right outlet and reporter, craft the right message, and execute a winning media pitch. The strategy results in strong media coverage in an outlet worthy of your brand's story. Yet, when you go to read and review the coverage, you’re stopped in your tracks with a ‘log in here’ pop up. Why? Because the article has been placed behind the media outlet’s subscription paywall. It's logical to ask: ‘Is the coverage still valuable?’

If we step back, it’s not hard to understand why more and more online media outlets are gating their content. In the last several years, we’ve seen ‘traditional media’ turned on its head. The print edition is all but dead, traditional advertising models are a thing of the past, and in the fast-paced world of digital media, the age of serious, in-depth, long-form journalism has in too many cases been replaced with short, relatively lightly researched stories designed to drive the highest number of clicks and views.

Despite a never-ending stream of ‘free’ online content, we’re seeing several media outlets succeeding with online paywalls. Traditional newspapers that have always charged for subscriptions, like The New York Times, Financial Times, The Economist, and The Wall Street Journal, are able to keep people paying for content for reasons including: the quality of the reporting, brand equity/tier-1 stature of the outlet, and even the power of individual journalists who may have built a significant social media following.

So...what is a brand to do if it secures that needed and important media coverage that’s placed behind a paywall? As a PR agency, we don’t believe it’s in a brand’s best interest to not promote and/or try to leverage the coverage in a significant way. Brands (and PR agencies) can’t outrun the reality of today’s media landscape. A company needs to keep telling its story with the right message to the right audience as often as possible.

The following includes four best practices we believe all brands should follow when coverage is received and placed behind a paywall.

Promote in Social Media: In a world where billions of direct connections are fostered through numerous social platforms, this remains a viable way for companies (or individual employees) to promote their media coverage. However, we recommend always stating that the article you’re sharing is located behind a paywall. This strategy allows you to still showcase your company’s inclusion in a story and highlight any significant points the story may make that positions you in the best light.

One fictional example includes: “Great @NYTimes story today by Mark Smith on state tax implications featuring Tax Today’s technology and market position. FYI - The NYTimes offers 10 free article views per month and then requires a subscription.”

Another strategy is to watch and see if the media outlet tweets and/or further promotes the story and then retweeting the post to your audience. This adds additional validity to your coverage.

The larger point is, brands need to constantly be telling an ongoing story, and this strategy is another way to execute against that initiative. Also, the logical argument is that anyone who is a subscriber to the outlet may be within the scope of your target audience which, in turn, leads to more direct influence.

2. Include in Email Marketing: One common strategy brands use to advance their top of the funnel or account based marketing (ABM) strategies is email. Leveraging media coverage as part of your email strategy is another viable way to continue that ongoing dialogue with existing and potential customers.   

When sending prospective customers an email message, using the media coverage as a talking point can lend credibility to the story or argument you are making - especially when your company or executives are positioned as an expert resource and provide non self-promotional insights to readers. If the story captures a specific theme worth reiterating, one strategy is to work that talking point into your conversation.

An example would be: “We have seen state tax audits become more commonplace since the 2018 Tax cuts. Paul Smith from USA Today wrote a great overview article on these audits that we were featured in.”

3. Leverage Article Quotes in Additional Marketing & Sales Collateral: If in the story the reporter says something valuable, you can pull that quote out and use in future company collateral (and link back to the coverage).

In the same vein, you can leverage coverage in future PowerPoint decks for sales, marketing, product, or even investor presentations, as well on the website. It doesn’t change the paywall conundrum, but it ties your company to the coverage.

4. Use for Podcast Pitching Angles: It’s common for podcasters to get their episode ideas from existing stories in print or digital media. Your PR team can include the story in their pitch as an example, to highlight a trend, etc. In this case, your team can send along the login info to podcast producers so they can see and vet the story.  

Final Thoughts

For better or for worse, subscription paywalls are the new reality in today’s media environment. Having the right strategy in place to effectively leverage coverage and get as much ‘bang for your buck’ is an important initiative for any company engaged in a media relations strategy.  Having a plan in place allows your brand to maximize coverage as you pursue your larger objectives and next great media placement. Good luck!