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More blurring between magazine articles and advertising

Blurring Magazine Articles and Advertising

Blurring Magazine Articles and Advertising

The January Craigslist posting was blunt: “Seeking editors/writers to create attractive fashion-worthy articles that will SELL PRODUCTS.” It was just for a startup publication blurring editorial and advertising. But this month, Ellen DeGeneres is on the cover of Ladies’ Home Journal, and it’s just a tad difficult to tell the difference between the articles about her and the ads that feature her.

The help wanted ad was from whowhatwear.com: “your immediate access to fashion as portrayed by the world’s finest trendsetters.” Founded by a former Elle editor and a former Elle writer, it contains articles and video delving into the hottest fashion. The Web site doesn’t feature the commercial frankness of its Craigslist post, so there’s been no fuss.

Not so with the March issue of the previously more conservative Ladies Home Journal. The magazine’s cover photo of DeGeneres was shot by Cover Girl, which DeGeneres represents. The feature article written by the magazine’s staff is interlaced with Cover Girl ads.

The placement of the advertising pages within the editorial doesn’t violate the magazine industry’s ethical standards, but it was an “unfortunate combination,” said Sid Holt, CEO of the American Society of Magazine Editors.

The fuzzy line between editorial and advertising certainly isn’t new at fashion, beauty and lifestyle magazines. Vogue editors have been criticized for designing the windows of chichi Prada shops in Italy. And in recent years, Sarah Jessica Parker has been in a number of magazine spreads that heavily blended editorial about the actress and ads with her touting products.

But magazines have seen their number of ad pages drop for six straight quarters. In the mad search for revenue, ethically questionable practices occur more often and more blatantly, even if some embarrassment occurs from greater examination under the microscope.

For PR, the pitching atmosphere is potentially poisonous. Merely pitching editors may result in entering the chain too late. By then, content may be locked up.

A marketing manager at a major cosmetics firm, who asked not to be identified, said that PR needs to take a wide-angle approach. “You have to at least pitch to the model, because the editorial is about the lipstick she’s wearing, and even that’s most likely been decided by someone else,” she said.

Pitch the editors. But also pitch to the model and her agents. Make your move before it even gets to the magazine, and then continue with the editors.

–Michael Blankenheim

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