Will Editors Bend for Advertising Dollars?

NEW YORK dvertisers are putting the heat on publishers to cross the church-state DMZ.

From increasing demand for editorial credits and ads disguised as editorial content to calls for cover presence, advertisers are ratcheting up pressure on magazines for treatments that blur church-state lines, according to editors, publishers and media buyers.

Industry sources say that while advertisers have from time to time pushed the church-state envelope, their requests have become more brazen. The growth of product placement, increased pressure to demonstrate ROI, the growing importance of ad revenue relative to circulation revenue and the economic downturn have all emboldened advertisers to become more aggressive, they say — and editors and publishers are finding it harder to say no.

One of the largest indicators of the growing closeness between edit and sales is the increasing role of editorial credits. Hall’s Reports, a leading editorial tracking service, found the number of credits in the 26 books it measures jumped 33 percent versus ’06 and is expected to increase another 36 percent this year, said Hall’s president/CEO Alan Seraita. “When times are tough, advertisers aren’t stupid,” said magazine consultant Mike LaFavore, until last month the editorial director at Meredith Corp. “They know who’s holding the power. Publishers, desperate for ad pages, are bringing them to the editors.” If an editor says no, he added, that person may wonder, “How long am I going to keep my job?”

Hearst Magazines recently grabbed headlines when it gave over 40 pages of edit in its July issue of Harpers Bazaar to the stars of a new Estee Lauder perfume campaign. “Smart beauty and fashion companies have begun to operate like the film business: When they have a project to promote, they launch it like a movie,” said a Bazaar spokeswoman. “Our editors are given the freedom to cover the subjects that they believe will most interest the reader. In this case, Estee Lauder was working with four women who frequently appear in the magazine.”

More quietly, Bauer Publishing’s Life & Style gave Steve Madden special treatment this year by featuring its shoes exclusively in a front-of-book spread that usually includes many brands. Life & Style publisher Maria Padova said Steve Madden had asked for something extra as part of its ad buy and that Bauer tries to accommodate such requests if the integration is organic. “We do try to work with advertisers in creative ways, always protecting our franchise,” she said.

Last year, Meredith’s Parents broke with tradition when it sold a false cover to promote DreamWorks’ DVD release of Shrek the Third. The mock cover retained the Parents‘ logo, in violation of American Society of Magazine Editors’ guidelines restricting the use of logos on ad pages. Ex-editor Sally Lee, now editor of Ladies’ Home Journal, was unavailable for comment.

Much of the trend is playing out through the growing demand for edit credits, or brand mentions. The exchange of editorial credits and advertising is a long-standing — if unofficial — practice most established with fashion and beauty books. But publishers and buyers describe a new aggressiveness among buyers, with some threatening to withhold ad pages if a client doesn’t get enough edit credits.

Jane Deery, president of PGR Media, said editorial credits have become more important to advertisers as they scrutinize their ad budgets. “The editorial is part of our RFP process, and it is as important as all the other pieces of information, such as rates and positioning,” she said.

And magazines are increasingly sensitive to advertisers’ wants. At a recent PGR event to showcase one of its clients, all 35 fashion magazines to show up — including Hachette Filipacchi Media’s Elle and Hearst’s Marie Claire — had editors representing them, an unprecedented turnout. “There’s more of a partnership, a better feeling that they’re listening,” Deery said.