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Advertising Sales and the Editor, Part I

Posted on Wednesday, August 29, 2018 at 2:42 PM

Top editors discuss the divide between ad and edit at their publications.

By William Dunkerley

How cozy does your editorial department get with the ad sales team? A wall between editorial and advertising has long been an impervious dividing line at many, if not most, publications. At least, that's been the goal.

The idea is that editorial content must unequivocally serve the readers. Capitulating to advertiser pressures represents a corruption of that principle. The ad/edit separation is supposed to be something like the separation of church and state.

Is that concept still relevant as the publication field experiences the dramatic evolutionary changes brought on by the global digital revolution?

We've been sensing that the exigencies of today's publishing milieu may be knocking a few bricks out of that wall of separation. So we conducted an anecdotal survey to tap into editors' thinking. And the editors had a lot to say:

Item 1

From Donald Tepper Editor, Lead Editor/Writer PT in Motion

"I don't personally participate in PT in Motion's ad sales efforts. That's left entirely to an outside company. The staff liaison, technically "advertising manager," is in our organization's (American Physical Therapy Association) marketing department, although she used to be structurally on the magazine's staff.

"However, I (and we all) recognize that advertising is essential to the magazine. As a result, we ask for input from the advertising manager and, through her, the advertising sales company, for article topics and themes that might attract additional advertising. Ultimately, all these subjects must meet our editorial standards. And they're treated as editorial, not as advertising. For example, in recent years we've received feedback that advertisers are interested in articles dealing with technology. They're also interested in coverage of the private practice setting; those readers, after all, generally have purchasing authority. (Other settings include academic/educational, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, research, the military, and so on.) We sometimes receive requests for specific topics that may appeal to certain advertisers -- aquatics, for example.

"In addition, I and the other editorial staff will try to come up with topics that, though not specifically suggested, might be 'advertiser-friendly.' Recent examples include 'Group Purchasing and Other Buying Strategies,' 'How to Defend Yourself Against Scams and Cyberattacks,' and 'Travel PTs: Opportunities Today.' We develop an editorial calendar and then circulate it to different departments within APTA for their comments and feedback. The marketing department and the advertising manager have an opportunity to review it as well. (Their comments, when provided, generally have been along the lines of 'Can we have something addressing technology in the July issue?') But it's up to them to sell the advertising or develop packages based on the editorial calendar. "On very rare occasions (once or twice a year) I may talk directly to an advertiser to provide a description of what we're planning for a particular article. I also work with one or two PR firms (not even a company's ad agency) who provide some business-related case studies dealing with a particular topic (for instance, aquatics) but without even mentioning the client's name. It just can result in a more 'advertiser-friendly' publication ... though the item (these are short items, not full-length features) is fully subject to editing and must meet our editorial standards.

"And at some of our major conferences, I may receive an invitation from an exhibitor (that also happens to advertise in the magazine). I'll drop by the booth, shake hands, and take a look at whatever they're exhibiting. But I'm not trying to sell the company on advertising in PT in Motion. (And, frankly, booth personnel aren't interested in meeting me. They want to meet actual buyers.)

"Bottom line: My attitude and practice is not to participate in the magazine's ad sales efforts.

"How often do I communicate with anyone on the ad sales team about any sales-related effort? As described above: almost never. Maybe six times a year, mostly related to questions about the editorial calendar."

Item 2

From Joanne Erickson Editor in Chief Provider magazine

"I think it is pretty impossible to divorce oneself entirely from sales today. While I have always been -- and continue to be -- a strict enforcer of the hard editorial line, we do accept select articles from advertisers (with no self-promotion of product beyond their byline) that are pertinent and valuable to readers, almost exclusively from software companies and various consultants.

"The editorial staff also keep sales up to date on upcoming content and almost daily pass on leads as they cross our desks.

"Provider's sales staff also sells sponsored events, such as roundtables, interview lounges, and series of talks, and editorial staff participate fully in securing speakers, interviewees, and other participants and play key roles in the events themselves.

"As editor, I will meet clients who request a meeting, but I'm never involved in actual selling. That being said, I encourage editorial to support sales in any way that we can."

More to Come

These excellent commentaries serve well to frame the debate. In Part II we'll present additional comments collected by our survey. We encourage that you now add your perspective too. Please use the "Comment" link below for that purpose. We'll hold your input for the next issue.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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