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Separating church and state

September 3: One of the main functions of the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) is to police the sacred boundaries between editorial and advertising. Should a magazine cross the line, or at least blur it sufficiently, they will receive a letter from the ASME that they have violated the rules. Shape magazine’s May issue is just such an example. The cover features Ellen DeGeneres followed by an advertisement for Vitamin Water, which is being peddled by the same daytime TV host.

Sid Holt, CEO of ASME, wrote to the magazine: “If readers have reason to suspect that editorial decisions are being made simply to sell advertising, not only is the integrity of the publication degraded but the value of the publication to marketers is destroyed.”

But not everyone in publishing subscribes to Holt’s reasoning. Some publishers try to squeeze into an editorial piece the name of companies who already advertise in the magazine. And some just go straight for writing editorial articles about companies who paid them to do so. For example, the following Craigslist classified ad was posted by RedCoat Publishing seeking to hire folks to call companies and offer to feature them in editorial content for a price.

This ad was found under the category of B2B sales in Boston: “We are currently seeking a few success-oriented professionals for inside sales positions in our growing Editorial Research Department. As an Editorial Researcher, you will work with C-level executives, senior managers and business owners of successful companies to explore the potential of featuring their company in one of our award winning publications. WHAT YOU NEED: – Minimum 2-5 years B2B sales experience…WHY WORK FOR US?:  – 6-figure earning opportunity, average first-year income of $55,000-$65,000… “

The position of RedCoat’s parent company, Schofield Media Group (SMG), appears to be as ambiguous as the sales title of Editorial Researcher. A quick Web search may have browsers wondering what the relationship is between Schofield Media and Business Media Publications (BMP) or even Ideal Publications LLC. BMP and SMG list several of the same titles on their websites. Among these titles are Management Today, Construction Today, Food & Drink Magazine and Energy & Infrastructure. A call to BMP’s corporate office for just such clarification yielded an attendant who answered the phone as “SMG.” Apparently, SMG and BMP are the same company. Requests to speak with a corporate PR contact at BMG were rerouted to the voicemail box for a contact at Beverage World, published by Ideal Media. On SMG’s site, Ideal Media is listed as a publishing division, but no mention of Schofield is made on Ideal’s site.

In 2007, the Bad Pitch Blog wrote a piece about RedCoat and Schofield stating that if someone from either company calls you and asks about featuring your company in an article, your first question should be, “for how much?” because it is definitely a sales call. Despite this, it has been three years since this blog article and these media properties seem to be alive and well.

The RedCoat Publications list includes American Executive, Inside Healthcare, Energy Today, Retail Merchandiser and the recently launched Education Executive. All publications, with the exception of Retail Merchandiser, are led by Jill Rose, editor in chief of RedCoat Publishing.

In a phone interview, Rose said that RedCoat’s titles contain two types of editorial content. The first – represented by feature articles and cover stories – accepts PR pitches. These opportunities are listed on the magazines’ editorial calendars and 99 percent of cover stories are pitchable. She refers to the second type as a “special kind of editorial,” comprised of company spotlights or profiles, or ad-supported case studies. Ad space adjacent to the article may be purchased by the organizations profiled. Rose notes that in about 5 to 10 percent of cases, the spotlighted companies choose to advertise along side their profile. She says that the second type of editorial isn’t distinguished from the first because they are both editorial in nature.

RedCoat’s circulation is controlled and most of their editorial content is generated in-house. Rose says that she writes most of the cover features and is aided by outside consultants and book authors. Corporate spotlight pieces are also written in-house. Opportunities for outside writers are available on a case-by-case basis.

According to Rose, Retail Merchandiser’s structure is slightly different because it has many small sections. It also has digital back-issues, a media kit, and an editorial calendar. In an e-mail interview, editor in chief Amanda Gaines said, “For an idea of what we’re looking for, also take a look at the digital edition’s Up Front section. I always put a technology and a trend piece into that section.”

It is unclear whether SMG, BMP or Ideal Publications operates similarly. Rose had no knowledge of BMP or Ideal. She could only confirm that RedCoat was under Schofield Media. While RedCoat’s titles are pitchable, they present a potential complication for freelancers and PR professionals because the two models of editorial content are not easily distinguishable, or deliberately advertised.

Industry networking site MediaBistro has dozens of user comments on their bulletin boards regarding these media brands – none of which are positive. When freelance writers or public relations professionals encounter a magazine they are not sure about, they can e-mail ASME or MediaBistro, or inVocus to get background information. The best course of action with unfamiliar brands should always be a cautious one.

— Rebecca Bredholt and Tayne Kim

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