‘True’ Confession: We Talk to Ad Sales All The Time

We really don’t do this often — oh, screw it: I’m not even using that blog convention of the royal ‘we’ for this one. It’s me, managing editor Rebecca Fox, speaking on behalf of my mediabistro.com editorial colleagues in a rare fit of first-person. I’m here to tell you something I hope, for the sake of the larger media world, will stop sounding shocking someday soon…

We here in mb editorial talk to our advertising team All.The.Time. We trust them, we rely upon them, we like them. Do they dictate what we do and don’t cover? No way. Do we stay abreast of what they’re working on, as it pertains to the content we work so hard to produce, day in and day out? Abso-freakin’-lutely. And that relationship makes what each of our teams is trying to accomplish run better.

They tell us about novel campaigns and initiatives they’re working on, we apprise them of new and interesting things we’re doing, and in doing so, we roundly reject the notion of ‘never the twain shall meet’ that we’re seeing so much of this week, courtesy of the still-sputtering controversy over Gawker Media’s partnership with HBO that begat ‘BloodCopy,’ the recent Gawker blog acquisition that wasn’t. Best of all, mb salespeople come to us of their own accord to ensure nothing they’re planning or have executed, sponsorship- or sales-wise, scans as even remotely questionable or corrosive to the journalistic credibility that is central to what we do.

We believe that being in constant communication with those charged with selling our content makes our business better. Not just from a sales standpoint, but more importantly: it shores up the integrity we know we can continue to proudly associate with our content. Simply put: We know they’re not messing with what we do in a way that makes us feel icky. Furthermore, we think edit folk who say they don’t interact with their sales teams are either full of it, or not doing the smartest thing with their business in this new (as in ‘novel,’ not necessarily ‘online’ — though the two obviously converge) media world in which we all now reside.

Old-line church-and-state boundaries between advertising and editorial are undergoing a transformation. Here’s why that’s not such a bad thing what’s best for the media business…

Within media, everyone is struggling to make money these days. Advertisers seek increasingly novel modes of getting their messages to readers and users. As our talented sales manager Varinda Missett tells us all the time (yes, I’m namechecking her — deal with it), the same old, same old banner placements and ad boxes simply don’t bring home the bacon for online media advertisers any longer. If they’re not working to find new modes of connecting advertisers and consumers of content, we’re dying.

This is why, contrary to Zachary M. Seward’s chagrin, it came as no surprise when I read Gawker vice president of sales and marketing Chris Batty’s prediction that if Gawker’s still standing in three to four years, “the majority of our advertising revenue will be in sponsored posts like this.” Better yet (traditionalists, look away): I see no problem with that.

What I do find problematic, however, is the dismissal of those who took issue with the campaign by Batty as “humorless.” One of the longest-standing journalistic tenets — that of the boundary between editorial and advertising — is no laughing matter. I do, however, posit that some of those critics are in trouble if they’re unwilling to imagine a way these two interests can work in concert within an increasingly embattled media landscape.

Something else that’s off the mark is quibbling over who generates ad copy. As Bill Murray said in Meatballs, it just doesn’t matter. If Gawker Media chief Nick Denton wanted to put writer Hamilton Nolan to work writing advertorials, rather than crapping all over Vice for “selling out” (related: I challenge you to offer up a more meaningless, puerile turn of phrase), That Would Be OK. So long as it didn’t affect Nolan’s freedom to remain objective when covering said client.

What’s Not OK is perpetuating ambiguity through the omission of any signifier making clear that those advertorials were not in fact pure editorial content. Had Gawker not continued to step in it, maybe I’d be off editing someone else’s article instead of writing this post. But there is so much happening here, it seemed important to take a look at which lines in the sand have been drawn, what they mean, and why it makes so much sense to let the arbitrary, face-saving, meaningless ones blow away in the winds of change (tornadoes, really, depending on the day) buffeting everyone with even the most passing interest in media and how it operates.

And now, for some advertising: We’ll be discussing all this and more next Tuesday afternoon in the panel I’m moderating at Mediabistro Circus dubbed ‘Strange Bedfellows: The [New] Media Deal.’ I hope you’ll be there to join that conversation about these vital issues.

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