PR practitioners are up in arms amid concerns there has been an increase in magazine and newspaper publishers demanding brands buy ad space if they want editorial coverage, but others have suggested this simply reflects the changing nature of the industry.
The blurring of the supposedly sacred division between advertising and editorial is by no means a new phenomenon, but a number of sources have suggested anecdotally that titles are increasingly asking brands to buy space in return for coverage.
It has been suggested the practice is becoming more prevalent amid circulation and revenue declines in the print industry, as publishers employ new tactics to bolster profits.
AdNews has come across newspaper publishers, including a Rural Press publication, as well as at least one of the country’s largest magazine publishers, which have used this tactic in recent weeks. Rural Press declined to comment.
Cox Media principal Peter Cox told AdNews: “I think this has always happened with consumer magazines, but increasingly it is happening in the newspaper business. It’s always been an issue, but now more than ever, as the industry works to figure out its business model. There are major pressures on editors and journalists.”
One PR practitioner, who wished to remain unnamed, said: “More and more we are hearing, ‘If you want a story to run, we’ll need advertising support.’ It tends to be the smaller to mid-sized publishers, the rural guys, the indie publishers, but it doesn’t matter who it is – it’s just not on. Of course we can’t decide if a story will run, but if it’s newsworthy it should at least get considered.”
But others have argued the increase in the practice is a natural evolution of a structurally evolving industry. Fusion Strategy principal Steve Allen said: “Publishers are just pointing out to the PR guys there is no such thing as a free meal. They are saying, ‘We support you, so how about you support us.’ Publishers need to eat, they need to survive as well.”
Jim Flynn, director of indie publishing company Citrus Media, used a recent anecdote to explain the situation: “Recently, a major advertiser hadn’t been showing any ad support despite pages of editorial coverage over the last two years. I rang the marketing director and asked why that was the case.
“They said that print and our magazine were not their target market, so after an amicable disagreement I had no problem saying, ‘If you don’t think our readers are your target market then I’ll happily remove the editorial coverage.’ Six months later they booked an ad and were back asking about editorial coverage.”
But not everyone thinks it’s an issue. PR practitioner Joy Clark, of Joy Clark & Associates, said: “In my whole time in the industry I’ve heard it once, and that was years ago.”
This article first appeared in the 5 October 2012 edition of AdNews, in print and on iPad. Click here to subscribe for more news, features and opinion.
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