‘LHJ’ Editor Draws ASME Scrutiny, Again

NEW YORK Ladies’ Home Journal editor Sally Lee is drawing American Society of Magazine Editors scrutiny again, in a case that raises pay-for-play questions.

Ellen DeGeneres appears on the cover of the March issue and in a 2-page Cover Girl ad immediately thereafter. The advertiser shows up again in the story on DeGeneres, which mentions her new spokesmodel arrangement with Cover Girl. The company also is credited with the cover photo.

ASME CEO Sid Holt said that after a number of members asked if the issue violated its editorial guidelines, he determined that it did not. The voluntary but generally accepted guidelines specify that ads containing products should not run next to editorial pages that mention those same products. They offer no guidance about the placement of people images.

Even so, Holt said the ad’s proximity to the cover, nature of that photo and advertiser’s mention in the story create an “unfortunate combination.”

“The underlying issue is avoiding the appearance of pay for play — something that is important to marketers and publishers as well as editors,” Holt said in a statement. “Obviously, Ellen DeGeneres is not the advertised product, so there is no violation of the guidelines. Ellen DeGeneres is also an unusual choice for Cover Girl, which makes her contract worth mentioning in a profile, and there is no reason to suspect that this is product placement run amok. But it is not surprising that the combination of cover, ad and story, however inadvertent, raises questions — questions it would probably be best to avoid for the good of the magazine, the advertiser and the reader.”

The cover comes at a time when magazines face a punishing ad climate. There’s intense pressure to devise ad treatments that blur church-state lines. ASME is in the process of updating its guidelines, saying they haven’t kept pace with changing industry practices. The group expects to reissue them in September.

A rep for LHJ parent Meredith Publishing Group said that Cover Girl had a preexisting agreement to use the ad position immediately following the cover and that its decision to advertise its new makeup line in the March issue was a coincidence. The rep also said the article focuses on her career and thus was justified in mentioning the spokesmodel arrangement.

“As far as we are concerned, the cover is not in violation of any existing guidelines,” the rep said. “It’s not product placement.”

Lee attracted ASME scrutiny back in 2007, when she was editor of Meredith sister pub Parents. That title sold a false cover to promote DreamWorks’ DVD release of Shrek the Third. The mock cover retained the Parents’ logo, in violation of ASME guidelines restricting the use of logos on ad pages. Meredith said it wouldn’t repeat such an execution in the future.