Advertorial: To Pay or Not to Pay

thumbsupdownIn a perfect world, the advertising and editorial sides of the publishing industry would exist on opposite sides of a massive wall to prevent conflicts of interest and ensure the unbiased nature of news coverage. The reality, of course, is a lot messier in a world where publications rely on sponsor dollars to stay in business. This blurring of the lines can result in content that falls along the continuum between ads and editorial, and companies to understand some of the core options that are available.

A common approach to generating revenue is the designated advertorial section, which allows companies to purchase a certain amount of space to run articles. This is different from a traditional advertisement because the content tends to be in an article format and must follow certain style and content requirements. Whether the publication or the advertiser writes the copy can vary, but in almost all cases the advertiser gets final approval over the content that appears.

One variation of this is the award section (or the related vendor list), in which companies get named to a list that features their name and some text about what they do. With the exception of awards that are overseen by an impartial jury, these sections are usually revenue generators and don’t really have a lot of credibility. Companies need to figure out if these will help them drive business or whether it will just be wasted money.

Both of these opportunities can blur the line between church and state, but they are usually laid out in a fairly ethical way that lets readers tell the difference between paid copy and regular articles. The barrier gets murkier, however, when publications offer to write an editorial feature – but make buying an ad a condition for running the article. Most publications will try to sell ads to companies featured in their pages, but it is a major step to actually refusing to run stories without ads. This is a tough call for marketers to make, especially if a publication is in a key vertical or reaches potential sales targets and current customers.

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