Some words on house style and sponsored writing

One of the things I do is to edit sponsored supplements within other publications. I’ve done this very recently for the New Statesman, I’ve also done it in the Times (for independent publishers like Raconteur) and Professional Outsourcing, of which I’m overall editor.

The client doesn’t always understand the deal. It’s a lot like advertising but there are serious differences. It’s worth considering them if you or a client are thinking of getting involved in something like this.

  • An advertorial or sponsored piece is not, repeat not, the same as an advertisement. You can put whatever you want in an advert subject to decency and other considerations and it will probably be accepted. Pieces of writing that bear the name of the publication are different. They are part of the brand and have to be up to scratch – so putting any old thing in isn’t going to work.
  • Likewise, the writing has to be in the magazine’s style. This means that if you or your client are insecure enough to think that a job title has to be in capital letters but the magazine says job titles are lower case, our style will prevail. Papers that have been around for over a century won’t change for a one-off. Your business wouldn’t change its style for a one-off client.
  • The magazine will also have final say over content. Seriously, I’ve seen a major magazine walk away from several thousand pounds worth of business at the last minute because the client insisted on a particular article with a particular allegation going in. The client threatened to pull the business and take the mag to court and the mag called his or her bluff – the client managed to find a replacement article to go in on a later date. Never, ever try to call a journalist’s bluff – we love a challenge and when we’re sure we’re right we won’t back down.
  • But never mind us – what about the readers? Even for the smallest magazine, which might be amenable to publishing a little product puffery or whatever, there has to be something substantial in it for the reader. Will the reader respond as you want them to if you go in too salesy – or would you be better off saying something of value and making a lasting impression? OK, loaded question, but a valid one.
  • Finally make sure you tie the sponsored communication in with your other comms. Social media, your blog, everything – it should all carry the same messages and make people familiar with your brand and its values. No, it may not have all the hallmarks of your brand, it’ll be in our house colours and follow our style sheet – but it still needs to feel authentically “you” as part of a continuum of content. That’s how inbound marketing works – and it’s not that difficult to do.

Do you need help writing for media or speaking to journalists? Contact me – I can help.

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