Advertorial Blues-2

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One editor's approach to paid content

In my previous post, I offered some views on advertorial spreads in print publications. You know the ones they look like real articles, but are paid advertising in disguise.

As Managing Editor of Atlantic Business magazine, Dawn Chafe has come up against the dread advertorial more than once. I remember, in the magazines early days, you could buy editorial space in the publication. Back in 1993, I entertained such a pitch from one of the salespeople, who offered me a one-page article if I bought a full-page ad. I could even place them on facing pages, if I liked.

That was then, and this is now.

Dawn Chafe joined Atlantic Business in 1997, and has been instrumental in building a credible, successful publication that, according to Chafe, has the highest audited circulation in Atlantic Canada. Indeed, the magazine has come a long way under Chafes leadership, winning awards for both editorial content and graphic design.

Anyone who knows me and my work knows exactly how strongly opposed I am to selling editorial content, Chafe said, in an email exchange. And I am fully supported in this by the owners of this company. Though our sales people here at Atlantic Business get requests for editorial added value on a near daily basis, it just isn't going to happen. That is our guarantee to anyone who reads our magazine: that our editorial content is arms length from advertising. We do not compromise on that, which is why we are the most award-winning business publication in Atlantic Canada.

That said, I have no problem with advertorials or promotional features, provided they are clearly labeled as such. We do have advertorials and we do have promotional features which are paid for by the client, and they are clearly identified as either advertorial or promotional content. They also include the client's logo - something which would never appear in our standard editorial content. We would never attempt to mislead our readers we respect them too much to abuse their loyalty that way.

Chafe said the publication does include special reports in every issue, with a sectoral or industrial theme of interest to advertisers, but the content is determined solely by editorial.

It is simply a way of packaging a group of stories around a single topic, she explained. Other magazines do this by having themed issues; we choose to put our themes into focused reports - which frees up space in the rest of the magazine for timelier, more topical content. We prepare our editorial lineups a year in advance, and we have to have something on deck to entice potential advertisers. Id like to be able to keep it as generic as Finance, Tourism, Manufacturing, etc., but that doesn't work (such is the nature of the advertising market in this part of the world). So, we provide enough detail in our lineups to entice a certain level of advance ad bookings, without selling our soul at the same time.

Despite its efforts to do the right thing, the magazine doesnt always or even frequently get recognized with advertising support from the business community, Chafe said.

100% of our revenue comes from advertising, and it is often the in-house public relations people and advertising agencies who refuse to book advertising unless their company or client is specifically mentioned or interviewed in a story. While we never sell our editorial content (i.e. buy an ad, get a story), we do sometimes have ads for interview subjects in the magazine (i.e. we've interviewed the CEO for a story, so the PR director decides to book an ad). It's frustrating, for sure, particularly when we are told that our competitors feel no such compunction against blatantly selling their editorial pages (i.e. Magazine XXXX said theyll write a story about us and/or our clients if we buy an ad).

Atlantic Business is not the only local publication that contains advertorial features. The Telegram produces a big one every Saturday with its Drive section, which contains a great deal of car advertising wrapped in related editorial. The Telegram also runs advertising sections every week or two, focused on a specific business. They also do the business forecast inserts, which are chock full of advertising. (Incidentally, the worst kind of ad is one that adopts a newsy look, copying the font and layout of the newspaper in a ploy to fool readers, but these are rare and are usually identified at the top as advertising.)

Pretty much all publications will run special sections think Spring Renovations or Holiday Gift Guide that are designed to draw in advertisers. However, there is one local publication that doesnt. You might be surprised at who it is. More on that in part 3, along with some interesting insights from a former advertising sales manager.

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  • Dawn
    July 27, 2010 - 14:54

    Just a quick clarification, and my apologies if this wasn't clear in my email, we don't have the largest audited circulation in the region: we have the largest audited circulation of any regional business publication. We are in fact more than 40 per cent larger than Progress, our closest competitor.