The Dance Between Editorial and Advertising

Having survived many years in the newspaper business gave me quite a bit: a caffeine dependency, the ability to write quickly with an editor looming over me, and an assumed fear of the advertising department.

At newspapers, and at most print publications, the advertising and editorial departments don’t interplay. They rarely fraternize; they don’t cohost getting-to-know-you mixers. They exist as worlds unto themselves.

There’s a good reason for this, of course, with roots that sink deep in media history. You don’t want The New York Times coverage of a tanker oil spill brought to you by Exxon. You don’t want an exposi of the well-oiled efficiency of a municipal police department sponsored by Dunkin’ Donuts.

There is a necessary wall between editorial and advertising at many publications. Erected to shield writers from the furtive impulses of salespeople motivated by hitting their quarterly numbers, that wall is intentionally impossible to scale. Snipers secure the border.

Well, the issue becomes more complex in the e-zine world. Or, at least, here at ClickZ.

In fact, our approach to advertising is far different than it is in the newspaper world. Here, the editorial department does have active involvement in the sales process. What we do here, and what many e-zine publishers could replicate in their own markets, is encourage more communication between the editors and advertisers and in-house salespeople. The trick is, of course, not to cross the line and jeopardize the publication’s integrity.

In that way, editorial and advertising are not actually on different sides of a wall. It’s far less black and white. It’s more give and take, where one informs the other. It’s more of a dance.

Here’s what I mean: More than two years ago, Engage came to us with a problem. Engage was knee-deep in developing its technology that would allow marketers to target their messages according to any number of factors. The folks there wanted to inform their audience of marketers and publishers about the products, but a certain amount of education about the (at that time) cutting-edge concept also needed to first take place.

As a client, Engage turned out to be a turning point in our approach to advertising here at ClickZ, in that it became the first time we tailored content to meet the objectives of a particular advertiser. To flesh out the concept of targeted marketing (we call it “precision marketing” in the column) and all the glory of its applications, ClickZ hired a writer, Deborah Kania (who preceded the current writer, Cliff Allen).

So does that make us editorial trollops?

Well, actually, no. Deborah spoke to a specific concept — not a specific product. In other words, she developed a specific audience within our niche. The audience she spoke to was made up of marketers and publishers who were interested in being brought up to speed on targeting technology.

Is Engage a provider with a set of tools to help target messages? You bet. But as I’ve said in the past, Engage has never pushed its weight around in the editorial space.

But back to the dance.

Unlike at newspapers, there is a role your editorial staff can play in helping develop content sponsorships like the one pioneered on ClickZ with Engage. In a niche trade publication such as ours, the advertisers are very much a part of what enriches the experience for the reader.

Not in an inappropriate manner, as they might be at a consumer news site, but in the way that the companies doing business in the space can be resources for readers: by directly providing solutions, certainly. And also more peripherally: Five different email solution providers advertising on the home page sure tells you where the growth of the industry is heading, doesn’t it?

Yeah, yeah — but how does this work in the real world? How do you talk to advertisers and get their input on content without crossing the line and compromising integrity?

Well, that’s the dance.

It’s a matter of convincing advertisers that it serves their interest far better to inform an audience from a broader perspective. That instead of talking about the benefits of Engage, which would turn readers completely off, it serves their interest far better to educate and inform the audience about the concept of targeted profiling. The fact that Engage’s ads occupy the space surrounding the content sure does set them apart as a leader in the industry, don’t you think?

A closer working relationship between advertising and editorial has other benefits. When our advertisers wonder if we could develop a particular content thread — they are actually doing us a favor. They are helping those of us in editorial keep our ear to the ground on new developments and technologies within the online marketing and ad space.

Chances are that if one company wants to develop a particular audience we haven’t tapped into, there is a groundswell of activity just below the surface. Companies aren’t founded in vacuums. Usually, there’s any number of new companies being formed and new products being launched in the space. It’s an indication of a growing market that those of us on the editorial side need to pay attention to.

Is that the only way we launch new content threads? No. But at the same time, it’s one way we can keep our finger on the pulse.

So look around at your own market. Where is the growth in your market? Are there ways you could inform your readers about new developments in your space? Are there advertisers who could benefit by you delivering the story?

Ask your editors.

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