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Monday, July 25, 2005

Pay for Play 


Advertising Age's piece (linked above) on the launch of Relish, a food magazine/newspaper insert which will "offer advertisers brand integration in editorial content," will, I'm sure, cause many editorial ethicists' heads to explode. And, indeed, ASME weighs in:

The integration goes against the spirit of the guidelines from the American Society of Magazine Editors, said Marlene Kahan, executive director at ASME. “It will be a violation of the future iteration of our guidelines.”

While product placements probably (and I emphasize probably) go too far, we media types have to wrestle with the issue of selling editorial placement. We live in a world where content wants to be free, where advertisers continue to demand provable ROI (even though we don't control the creative or the offer, but can only deliver a potential target audience), and where editorial mention is valued more highly than an ad page (which is a huge irony, but a reality).

We have one client wrestling with this issue now. Directors & Boards is a paid circulation quarterly journal of corporate governance which reaches more than 5,000 top board members and executives. Its position: the journal of thought leadership, with content provided by directors and other governance professionals. We use no freelance, and no generic content. Our editorial team receives far more queries and submissions from law firms and consulting companies than they can possibly use. And our advertising team hears, more often than not, that law firms and consulting companies just don't advertise, preferring instead to provide valuable content. (Thankfully, there are enough companies out there that realize this is a bizarre logic that our ad revenues have more than doubled in the past year).

But that's left us in a strange position. Whose content should make it into the magazine? If we have two submissions on the same topic, do we choose the submission of the firm who advertises or otherwise supports the magazine? So far, we've avoided going that far, instead choosing the best content, regardless.

But we've come up with a partial solution. We're going to launch a special supplement to the magazine this Fall, called Critical Issues. It's a hybrid which allows law firms to submit content on a paid basis. The content will be vetted and approved for validity (no hype, no marketing--thought leadership pieces only). Critical Issues will be clearly marked as a special advertising supplement, but we hope that it will also add value to our audience, by providing top notch insight and analysis into critical issues facing directors in the year ahead.

We think the approach will allow us to continue to build on our thought leadership position, and get paid for it, while not harming the magazine's editorial integrity. I think this is the basis of most successful custom publishing, which needs to provide quality content if it's going to work.

We're not quite to the stage of selling editorial mentions or product placements--and we'll never allow that to happen anyway. But we are getting into the pay to play model. It's a rocky road, and we'll be stepping carefully. I'll let you know how it goes.


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