Editorial integrity and advertorials
This afternoon, as I complete my Thank You calls for our clients, I'll also follow up on one complaint we received this issue from an advertiser in our North Carolina publications. We had received a complaint from an advertiser that we hadn't properly mentioned his business in a feature story, while we had portrayed their competitors in a Page 1 photo. The advertiser, rightfully, did not feel he had been served properly.
We've proposed a solution that will hopefully restore the balance, but this conflict touches on one of the biggest challenges a publisher encounters when co-ordinating story selection and resolving the trade-offs between editorial integrity and customer (advertiser) service.
In the purest and 'ideal' model, the publisher doesn't worry at all about what advertisers think. We write for our readers, generate enough eyeballs and credibility with our genuine content value, and then advertisers flock to us to do business without expecting anything more than access to our readership. But I know of no publisher who truly adheres to these considerations without reservation. Editors in advertiser-supported publications ultimately realize their business viability depends on their clients, and they are careful to avoid stepping too far over the line.
On the other hand, allowing the advertisers to shape and control the publication will doom it to a quick death. Pure advertorial enterprises have a short shelf life in general -- the reason is that readers discount the publications' credibility, don't read them, and then as a result advertisers don't receive any value.
The whole thing is getting much more challenging these days with the rise of the Internet, blogging, and the break-down of traditional power control within the media -- and the rise of much more aggressive public relations and media relations companies which are blurring the lines even more.
Our approach, within general guidelines, has been to control the linkage between advertising features and editorial content. This morning, I will work on one of these advertising features -- it is an eight page supplement filled with content written in an editorial style, but controlled by the sponsoring organization. Readers (and advertisers) are not misled about the section's purpose, however.
Where we continue to have problems and no quick or simple solution is when the two elements of advertising and editorial truly merge in relevance, specifically the North Carolina feature on electronic plans rooms and bidding technology. Here, we assigned an independent journalist to write the story as she saw fit, but also gave her the names and contact information of potential and current advertisers. Since the story appears on Page 1 of the newspapers, we didn't dictate or control the writer's content -- the story is of genuine relevance to our readers, after all, and we figured advertisers would best be served if it retained independence and credibility. but we still now have a (valid!) complaint from an advertiser.
One thing is certain -- I declined a request from another, non-advertising entrepreneur, for me to write a story (without advertising considerations) on his business, even though it relates tothe topic. I can't say his service stands out sufficiently from that of our advertisers. I don't need to ruffle any more feathers. He has proposed that I write a news release for him (creating another whole new area of interesting conflicts).
Generally, I will err on the side of responsible integrity. This means that we won't let advertisers control our news section, but we will certainly listen to them, both in the subtle issues of influence, and in the more direct respect for them as clients. But I know there are no perfect solutions that will keep everybody happy, all the time.
Monday, March 26, 2007
Editorial integrity and advertorials
Posted by Mark Buckshon at 2:31 AM