Ad Lib

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Think carefully about where you place that ad

Okay, let’s say you’re a successful business owner and have attracted some coverage in a glossy magazine for your product or service.

It occurs that this would be a good time to purchase an advertisement, and put it right there on the same page as your story.

Makes total sense, right?

Well, it’s wrong – absolutely wrong.

More than 10 years back, the agency where I worked landed a prestigious gig with a high-profile glossy magazine. Senior public relations counsel at the firm would take turns composing a monthly column, offering insights into current events from a tactical and strategic communications perspective.

It raised the public profile of our people and positioned them as “go to” specialists on public relations issues, while the magazine received solid content without having to pay for it. No, we weren’t paid to write the commentaries – the real value was in the byline, and being presented as subject matter experts.

The agency chose to run an ad in the magazine, to close the loop and provide contact information to potential clients. A conference call was arranged to decide how to best use that advertising space. During the call, a number of ideas were raised about the design and content of the ad, but so far, everyone was assuming it would go on the same page as the column – until it came my turn to speak.

“I don’t think we should advertise at all,” I said. “But if we do, we should place the ad as far from the column as possible.”

I was challenged on this and asked to explain why.

“Because it will diminish the integrity of the editorial content,” I said. “Readers will assume we paid for the editorial space and will reject the column as paid advertising. Our money would be wasted.”

The boss liked that advice and agreed that the ad should be located well away from the column.

Last week, I had a conversation with Michael Hollahan, an advertising account manager with Downhome magazine (many still know it as ‘The Downhomer’ but the publication has since evolved into more of a lifestyle magazine).  Just for fun, I asked what Michael would say if his magazine was doing a feature article about my business and I requested an ad to go on the same page. His answer startled me and, with his permission, I turned on my recorder and asked the question again.

“I would immediately tell you not to do that. If you were really hung up on that idea, I would refuse the sale.”

Advertising dollars are scarce and not many publications will turn away customers ready to write a cheque. So why would he do that?

“Because it would be damaging to our editorial and damaging to your business as well. We have paid subscribers to our magazine and they are buying the magazine, so they put a lot of trust in what we print. We try to be as honest and forthcoming as possible in terms of what we are writing about, and when you put an ad close to or on the same page as the editorial, you cheapen the editorial and you cheapen your ad. People will read the article, then see the ad and say, ‘This entire thing is bought.’ That is something you don’t want. You are losing the value you would have gained from the free exposure – the editorial – as well as your paid exposure from the advertisement, because people discredit the whole thing. And then they wonder how much of the magazine is bought in the same way. Our readers expect us to provide honest content. And when you start placing ads on the same page as related editorial content it cheapens that and you lose the respect of your readers.”

What if I insisted? What if I bypassed this Hollahan guy and called another account manager?

“This is the policy of our magazine, so you would get the same answer.”

Having worked years ago at publications where some of the advertising salespeople didn’t understand this distinction, I have to hand it to the Downhome staff. It’s a breath of editorially independent fresh air.

Turns out, Downhome isn’t alone in its progressive approach.

“This is the policy of a number of other advertisers around the city,” Hollahan said, adding that the magazine does run advertorials from time to time but these are clearly identified as such.

Do you work in ad sales? If so, what’s your take on this entry? And if you are in the market to purchase advertising, how does it affect your point of view – if at all?

Typos in this article have been corrected

 

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Recent comments

  • Brian O'Dea
    February 27, 2014 - 22:24

    I have never met an advertorial which engaged me. I don't get why a company which has been given the gift of one or more pages of free advertising in the form of a story would want to waste a plug nickel on buying space in the same mag... let alone the optics on every side

  • Carolyn R Parsons
    November 02, 2013 - 11:26

    Exactly that. People would assume it was advertorial. I've never worked for a publication where the editorial team would entertain such a thing and they also refuse to write copy for advertorial as a matter of principle. Always thought this was a given in the industry. It is for DH and that's good.

  • Carolyn R Parsons
    November 02, 2013 - 11:26

    Exactly that. People would assume it was advertorial. I've never worked for a publication where the editorial team would entertain such a thing and they also refuse to write copy for advertorial as a matter of principle. Always thought this was a given in the industry. It is for DH and that's good.

  • bob butler
    September 26, 2013 - 21:33

    it's like the coffee news thing... all those ads promoting the coffee news.. what do they call it... preaching to the choir!! It looks funny all the way!

  • Darrell
    August 10, 2013 - 22:02

    Glad to hear they're sticking to their guns still...was same when I was there years ago. Not even the big guys are still doing this. Saw a Reader's Digest some time ago that was embarrassingly selling out.