Crossing the Line With Ads and Edit is Like a Small Knife Cut: One May Not Hurt, But If You Keep Doing It…
There was a time in the summer of 2006 when Folio: ran an article about ABC’s new rules for Verified Circulation, and, because of a last-minute change in the map, an ABC ad fell right next to the ABC story. It was my responsibility to catch the unfortunate juxtaposition, and I didn’t.
Then in Circulation Management last year, we ran a story about fulfillment services from outsource providers. A couple of months before that, I had lunch with the president of one of the fulfillment companies, who asked me to use him as a source-where appropriate. No pressure, no questionable suggestions of quid pro quo. Fine. So I passed that info on to the edit team, and said use him where appropriate and without any consideration of advertising.
Of course, the best intentions sometimes go awry, and again because of a map change (and the ad side not following closely enough what was happening on the edit pages) we ended up running a photo of the guy on an edit page across from his ad. Not good, and I heard about it from the company’s competition.
I bring these anecdotes up simply to point out that this stuff happens inadvertently sometimes, but even then-as I tell our editors-even then, perceptions get formed and reputations get damaged, sometimes permanently.
You have to be both clean and buttoned up.
Which is why it disturbs me when I see others in our market do this so blatantly and so consistently. You can only make so many inadvertent mistakes. You can only give so many mulligans. When you see ads for products followed by stories whose headlines explicitly reference the exact name of the product in the ad, that’s bad. When you see photos of suppliers appearing in stories built to please suppliers (not readers)-and those photos are next to the supplier’s ad-and this happens consistently, that’s bad. When stories fill the book issue after issue that are "ad traps," not valuable information for the reader, that’s bad. When the owner of the cover-2 ad spread also has an editorial column on the back page, that’s bad. And all this is widespread not just in my market but throughout b-to-b. (Consumer magazines are also frequent ad-edit ethics violators as well, so my intention is not to accuse just one sector here. B-to-b happens to be the subject of this post, that’s all.)
Back to my market. I don’t like to throw stones. And I’m obviously biased, as a competitor. And even though those kinds of shenanigans work in my favor in the competitive sense, I can tell you it makes me mad as anything as a reader that I’m treated in a disrespectful manner.