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We’ve all heard it before: “It’s great exposure”, and its many variants. These requests come from fellow marketers asking for us to participate in something – speaking at a conference, writing a guest blog post, appearing on a podcast, and inevitably, the “exposure” is in lieu of a more tangible form of compensation.

For some, it’s an opportunity to be seen. For others, it’s a crass attempt to extract free work. How do we evaluate unpaid opportunities to maximize mutual benefit? We can’t just say yes to everything – but neither should we just say no to everything or demand blisteringly high fees. How do we find the right balance?

What is Exposure Anyway?

Let’s start with what exposure is. In the context of marketing, it means we have an opportunity to be seen by an audience, possibly a different one than we usually address.

How Do We Measure Exposure?

Exposure is nothing less or more than access to a different marketing audience. What are some goals, then, you might want to achieve with an exposure-based campaign? What might you want from a partner organization that would be of value to you?

Common goals could include:

  • Links for SEO purposes
  • Newsletter subscriptions
  • Raw website traffic
  • Social media account engagement
  • Conversions

The key to any campaign is to have clear goals set upfront. With no goals, you can’t measure success or failure after the campaign, and you can’t effectively evaluate opportunities before starting a campaign.

How Do We Evaluate Exposure Opportunities?

Exposure campaigns are essentially a barter, a trade. We’re trading your content and reputation in exchange for an outcome you care about. Based on the goals you’ve set, evaluate your opportunities, and ask for information upfront to judge the relative value of the opportunity.

Let’s say you’ve decided that inbound links are the goal you’ve determined you want to achieve. You want to obtain one or more links from valuable partners in exchange for your content. What might you look for and ask of a partner?

  • The partner website be equal to or greater in domain authority/reputation than our website
  • The partner website has a history of creating clear links (no no-follow links)
  • The partner website has a history of leaving links in place in perpetuity (no archiving old content)

Based on these criteria, it suddenly becomes much easier to evaluate things like guest blogging opportunities. Sites that refuse to commit to leaving links in place, no-following links, or sites that have lesser domain authority would be unequal barter opportunities. Here’s an example; if a site like Marketing Over Coffee wanted us to guest blog for them, we’d probably say yes because the value bartered would be equal or greater:

marketing exposure

How about speaking at an event? If your typical speaking fee is, say, $15,000, then is the event providing equivalent value that would be worth $15,000 in exchange for waiving your fee? What might you ask of such an event?

  • An event of a specific size
  • Full access and permission to use the registration list
  • A booth/stand of equivalent value

Whatever the exposure request is, treat it no differently than any other exchange of value. Ensure that the exchange of value is fair and equitable, and if it’s not, decline it unless you have a clear, conscious reason for engaging.

Exposure opportunities, once seen through the lens of barter or trade, also need processes behind them. Just because no money is changing hands doesn’t mean a scope of work, memorandum of understanding, or contract are unnecessary. In fact, in an arrangement without financial compensation, we’d argue that setting expectations and defining deliverables on the part of both parties is even more important.

Dealing With Unequal Opportunities

There will be situations where you have an unequal trade request. The key to our entire process is that we want to be making conscious, rational, well-thought choices instead of trying to evaluate opportunities on a case-by-case basis with inconsistent standards. Making an exception to the rule is better than cobbling together rules from exceptions.

What are situations where you’d consciously accept an unequal opportunity?

  • Accepting something because of a close personal relationship, a friends-and-family request
  • Accepting something as an investment of unequal value to help grow someone else’s business
  • Accepting something as a pro bono gift/donation
  • Accepting something as an element of random chance in a contest or giveaway

The different cases for accepting an unequal opportunity can be varied, but generally, there’s some kind of non-tangible trade that evens out the value lost, such as social good or social currency. The key is making conscious, deliberate choices.

Measuring and Managing Opportunities

Based on the metrics and goals you selected, measure the impact once the campaign concludes. Did you achieve your goals? If not, then remove that partner from consideration for future exposure opportunities and work with them on more tangible forms of compensation.

For example, if you appeared as a guest on a podcast with the intent of generating website traffic, and after 30 days, you had no new visitors to your website from the podcast’s domain, it’s safe to say that podcast wasn’t able to uphold its end of the agreement. You’d be well within your rights to ask for a more tangible deliverable if the show wanted you to return.

On the other hand, if an exposure campaign yields above-average results, you should prioritize working with that partner again to see if you continue achieving above-average results, results that exceed the required expectations. For example, if we set a goal of 25 visitors from Marketing Over Coffee, we’d agree this was a result worth repeating:

exposure measurement

Depending on the value, you might even offer them more tangible compensation to secure a longer-term relationship.

Conclusion

Exposure campaigns aren’t inherently bad. What’s bad is that most marketers don’t set clear goals or expectations, don’t have defined processes for managing the campaign requests, and don’t measure the impact of campaigns effectively. Take these tips and use them to codify your own exposure campaign guidelines, and you’ll get more out of such barter arrangements.


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