Advertisers' efforts to screen editorial tone grab media attention

NEW YORK: A common clause in media buying contracts - notifying advertisers of relevant editorial coverage before publication - has suddenly caught the attention of mainstream and trade media.

NEW YORK: A common clause in media buying contracts - notifying advertisers of relevant editorial coverage before publication - has suddenly caught the attention of mainstream and trade media.

Earlier this month, embattled investment firm Morgan Stanley adopted a policy stating that media outlets must notify its ad agency if "objectionable coverage" is planned, garnering mentions by outlets like The Wall Street Journal and the Dow Jones wire service.

The story was broken in Advertising Age, which also uncovered a similar policy at energy company BP. If a story about the company, the oil industry, or a competitor is slated to run, BP asks to be notified of the tone so that it can either move the ad or shift it to another issue.

Though reported as a new rule, BP spokesman Ronnie Chappell said the company has had the policy for a year and a half as part of its work with WPP agency MindShare.

"This policy is about understanding the context in which our ads will appear," he said.

Ray Kerins, EVP and managing director for GCI Group's media relations and corporate communications practices, said that, as ad dollars become more sparse, such a policy could be a way for companies to control the brand's message.

"As PR folks, if we were given the opportunity [to see copy beforehand], most of us would take it," he said. "But the reality is, we're all going to maintain a higher standard of ethics. The separation of church and state exists for a reason."

He added that it is up to the news organizations to ultimately determine how far this practice extends.

American Business Media (ABM), an association that represents more than 2,000 b-to-b publications, recently reissued its code of ethics on editorial and advertising relationships. One tenet is that editors must never permit advertisers to review articles before they are published.

"There are editorial ethics available, and that should be guiding them more than influence from powerful advertisers," said Steve Ennen, director of communications for ABM.

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