Tag Archives: advertorial

Five things not to say to editors

What should you never say to an editor if he or she is commissioning you?

I’ve been involved in setting up a new website for the New Statesman this month, editing numerous supplements for them and also editing Professional Outsourcing Magazine for more than a couple of years. It strikes me that there are still some pretty fundamental mistakes being made by a minority in the PR and business world.

Let’s make this clear: this is about people pitching commercially-driven articles rather than independent journalists or members of the public being interviewed. Journalists will know how we work and members of the public shouldn’t have to.

So, some pretty fundamental errors I’m still hearing:

  1. That’s the deadline? I’ll try. You’re trying to be helpful, I understand that. But if you’re going to struggle with a deadline, the longer I have to plan, the easier my job becomes. Editors get so close to the job (as do other professionals) that we assume you understand this – so when you say “I’ll try” we hear “I’ll definitely have the piece with you in plenty of time”.
  2. The deadline is difficult for us this month; can we go into next month’s issue? The chances are this is a “no” because I’ll already have the next slot filled. It gets worse. The person who asked me this recently was asking about a specific supplement for a specific magazine, so there would be no repeat of an appropriate slot in the immediate future; not only that but the magazine is weekly. The magazine I actually edit is quarterly. Anyone asking me about “next month’s issue” goes straight into my mental “not a clue” file. (I do stress I’m talking to people who are pitching to me for their own company or client’s gain – so I have the right to expect them to have done the basic research; readers and members of the public can make all the mistakes they want without prejudice).
  3. I’ve written over length, that’s OK, isn’t it? Yes it is as long as you don’t mind me making all the cuts I fancy. Editors, when they ask for 1000 words, mean precisely that. Technically you can indeed go over length on the Web, but if our house style is for shorter pieces we won’t accommodate longer pieces. And on the printed page we don’t have the flexibility. I’ve actually had people send 800 words for a 600 word slot and failing to understand that we can’t fit it in.
  4. I’ve got a colleague/associate to write this. This is probably fine as long as I know about it in advance. Next week there’s a supplement coming out from the New Statesman. I’ve edited it and there’s a piece from an academic; it was prompted by an interview with one of his colleagues, who I initially approached. It was clear very quickly that choice 1 wasn’t going to be able to fit it in, while choice 2 was probably a better expert anyway. They kept me fully abreast of this and re-confirmed when they’d made a firm decision; the resulting article is utterly superb. I’ve had other instances in which, at the last minute, having the layouts done including a headshot of the contributor, copy has come in by someone who’s been a complete stranger to me.
  5. I decided the subject wasn’t interesting enough so I’ve written about something else entirely. Genuinely, I had this only the other week. Now look, guys, I’m the editor – and if I’m expecting an article on a given subject I don’t want to be surprised at the last minute. Nor do I want to read an article that appears completely irrelevant after discussing it with you. If you find there isn’t enough substance in the original idea I’m fine with that – pick up the phone, talk to me, it proves you’re thinking about it and engaged! That’s a great thing. Never, though, decide you’re going to do something else and forget to tell me. For all you know I’ve commissioned someone else to write about something identical to, or too close to, your new idea, rendering it unusable.

The majority of people get it spectacularly right, most of the time. The guy in point 4 has written one of the best pieces I’ve ever commissioned, seriously. If you’re one of the small number who do otherwise, please take note!

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How to write an advertorial

I’ve been editing a few supplements carrying advertorials recently – I did some for the New Statesman last year, you can click here to see an example (the ones with the green flashes on the top are the advertorials). I’m delighted to say that most of the writers “get it” – just a couple don’t. Here’s the secret.

An advertorial is an opportunity for the client to put their message out there and generally hint at how wonderful they are. Roll up, roll up, come and see we’re terrific. And the best ones…do no such thing. Instead, they address an issue, they provoke some thought and barely mention the brand. To inexperienced marketers and PR people this seems baffling. So why does it work?

Writing for readers

The thing is, you might think your organisation or client is excellent. You might think that paying an outlet for an advertorial is a superb opportunity to shout this from the proverbial rooftops. That’s understandable. The problem is that so far this is all about what’s interesting to you. Should you really be writing for yourself, though?

I’d suggest you shouldn’t. Writing for the reader is a much better idea. A single paragraph of puffery and they’ll stop reading. Arrest their attention with something relevant to their lives or work and they’ll continue. Of course they might not be inspired to go and buy your stuff or to start working with you immediately but that’s not how the medium works.

If you want rapid impact and someone to start buying from you immediately, you should probably look at involving yourself in a straight advertisement. Advertorials are a slower burn. Readers will be resistant to them because they know they’ve been paid for, so you need to establish credentials and make points even more effectively than you would in the case of independent editorial. Once you’re over the resistance, though, you can establish that you’re a real authority in your field, and become a trusted resource of knowledge.

That’s when the magic starts to happen. People who want to know something about your area start to think about you before the competition because you’ve already offered so much. It’s all about putting the reader first and forgetting the “advertorial” label – just write a really good piece.

Longer term, it’ll deliver far better results.

Do you need help with your business writing? I can help – call me on 07973 278780 and we’ll talk.

Media mistakes 4: house style and advertorials

I edit a couple of publications, one regularly (Professional Outsourcing Magazine) and I’m one of a group of people editing supplements for the New Statesman. Sometimes we have external contributions from people, occasionally in the form of “advertorials” in the New Statesman (although we don’t carry those in Professional Outsourcing).

I enjoy both positions and have edited sponsored supplements for other publications, too. If I could change one thing about corporate contributors to either of them then it would be the view that says we will adopt the writer’s house style every time. We won’t.

Here’s an example. Someone was writing a piece for the one of my magazines a while ago and said they wanted their picture to appear by it. Now, unless you’re a regular staffer on the New Statesman (in which case you might well have a picture byline in the main magazine), that’s just not something the magazine does.

The writer’s logic was that he/she was paying to take part in an advertorial and should therefore be able to dictate terms. This isn’t actually how it works. If you’re writing for an established publication it will have its own style, and will adjust your copy to accommodate it. This might be as simple as changing every reference to the number “2” to “two”, or putting job titles in lower case (I’ve actually had complaints from people for not putting their job in capitals before now). But the house style is going to stay – it’s got our brand on it, and the Guardian, Times, Professional Outsourcing or whoever you’re writing for will want to stay consistent.

Publishing rules count

The other matter on which we’ll be very strict is libel. Even if you’re taking part in an advertorial, we won’t let you slate your competition or – as one company once tried to do in a magazine I won’t name – accuse a government of intimidation without rock solid evidence.

We’ll have been trained in the laws of libel and will know what you can and can’t say. Unless there is proof, the fact that something is true may not be an actual defence in court because the perpetrator will be regarded as innocent until proven guilty. And saying – as happened with one client – “We’re paying X amount so you’ve got to publish what we say” – isn’t going to cut it. We’d rather send the money back than compromise our publication.

None of this means you won’t get to state your case. You’ll simply be bound by the same ethics and legislation that controls the rest of the journalistic world. Generally these are there for a very good reason, such as protecting the genuinely innocent.

So if you’re going to get involved in advertorials here are some general guidelines:

  • It’s not an advert so you can’t just put in any old thing. Excessive mention of your brand, for example, will be frowned upon.
  • The magazine, newspaper or website may want to put its own house style into your item. This is a good thing as it will make the whole enterprise seem more professional and your article is more likely to be taken seriously.
  • Try to make a point and offer thought leadership rather than “we’ve got this new product or service”. You want people to read this rather than write it off as an advert.
  • Try to understand that the editorial team doesn’t always welcome the imposition of advertorial articles from the commercial side. It’s one of those professional tensions that exists in publishing – accept it, respect that the journalists to whom you speak might not have read every word of every advertorial and you should get on just fine…

Do you need help writing for or talking to the press? I can help – email me by clicking here and we’ll talk.