Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tougher ad:edit guidelines needed to counter pressure from advertisers

With the considerable, and apparently inexorable, pressure of advertisers, editorial integrity is under seige. And to withstand the pressure, says an opinion piece by Lucia Moses, a senior editor of MediaWeek, editors need something more than well-intentioned ad:editorial guidelines.

Both the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) and the Canadian Society of Magazine Editors (CSME) have published such guidelines, which attempt to define terms and draw a thin black line between editorial and ad content. [Disclosure: I was on the committee that reviewed and revised the Canadian guidelines.] For instance, they specify how ads shouldn't look like editorial and how editorial staff shouldn't be required to create ads. And they defend the cover as sacrosanct. The Canadian guidelines rely on moral suasion; the American guidelines threaten sanctions but almost never use them.
It all sounds good. But how much protection do they really provide in today’s multiplatform, boundary-pushing media world? To hear editors and publishers tell it, not a whole lot. For one, a growing number of ads that blur the ad-edit line is sneaking into print, as advertisers have grown bolder and magazines have begun to acquiesce. One publisher, I heard, received an RFP that actually called for an ad guaranteed to “piss off your editor.”

Take ad positioning. ASME says ads shouldn’t be placed right before or after edit pages in which the advertiser is shown or written about. Yet as the publisher of one major fashion title groused to me recently (off the record only, so as not to scare off advertisers), adjacencies—or their close equivalents—happen all the time in that category.
Moses says that some advertisers recognize that eroding editorial integrity is counter-productive; while others argue that the guidelines aren't rules, just suggestions.
All buyers, even those sympathetic to editorial concerns, still answer to their clients.

That pressure will only continue to grow. With guidelines that are so easily circumvented—and have no enforcement teeth anyway—ASME could be serving its members better. The organization officially says it will publicly sanction and disqualify members from its coveted National Magazine Awards. But in reality, those that cross the line usually just get a slap on the wrist.

Veteran women’s magazine editor Lesley Jane Seymour, now helming Meredith Publishing’s More, is among those who think the guidelines need to be tougher. “Editors have very little protection these days,” says Seymour. “The forces aligned against us to make money are enormous.”

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

when Rogers deemed the magazine spine was an ideal ad space for Razor cell-phone adverts, we knew it was the beginning of the end of the edit/advert separation.

9:51 am  
Anonymous Jenelle said...

Am I missing something here? Why aren't the CSME ad-edit guidelines more like laws and less like suggestions?

3:22 am  

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