GETTING THE MESSAGE: Well written advertorials find their niche in
mainstream magazines and newspapers
PRODUCING THE PACKAGE: Who should put it together - PR agency,
publishing house or design company?
CASE STUDY: Advertorials gave an invaluable boost to the launch of
Pylorid, a new drug for stomach ulcers
Clients are discovering that the new breed of well targeted, quality
advertorials are hitting the bullseye with readers.
‘It’s getting harder to get free editorial for clients. You’ve got to
find new ways of getting stories in the papers,’ says Gillian Woolcock,
managing director of Aveling Corporate Communications, a five-year-old
agency which specialises in ‘writing good business stories in paid-for
Advertorials, ‘Advertisement Features’ or ‘Promotions’ as they are often
labelled in the press, have been running in women’s magazines and
popular publications for decades, but increasingly they are being found
in ‘serious’ journals such as the Economist and Financial Times, as well
as in the business and trade press.
Aveling concentrates on what she describes as ‘difficult subjects’. Her
clients include the Commission for New Towns, Nuclear Electric, British
Gas and a host of companies in the financial sector including Alliance &
Leicester, United Friendly and accountants KPMG.
‘If you’ve got an issue and you’ve got to get a message across it’s
vital you control it because you can’t be sure journalists will get the
right end of the stick,’ says Woolcock.
The move into a more heavyweight market is not, however, without
problems. Only last week, the publications of Small Company Investors
was suspended following differences with The Securities and Investment
Board over the publication of what publisher Roger Cox calls
‘advertorials’, but what the SIB claims is ‘investment advertising’.
‘Editors of serious publications are very loathe to take our sort of
work,’ admits Woolcock. ‘We’re enormously sensitive to the concerns of
editors and will send a piece through again and again until they’re
happy with it. We have to make sure we don’t write anything that makes
it look as if the publication is lending its sanction to the article.’
Before Woolcock approached the Economist with the concept of an
advertorial, she first sent the proposed article to the Advertising
Standards Authority to make sure it met with its approval.
The ASA’s guidelines recommend that material of this kind should be
clearly identified with the words ‘advertisement, advertising or
promotion’ and staff writer’s by-lines should not be used.
Aveling prides itself on the relationship it has built up with the
Economist and has also been contracted to produce advertorials for VNU
publications Management Consultancy, Financial Director, Business Age
and Accountancy Age.
Dewe Rogerson has been running a series of advertorials for US
healthcare company Pfizer in the Economist and the Financial Times since
early 1995. ‘We had to work hard to get their co-operation,’ admits
media director, John Ferguson. The advertorials are written under the
banner Pfizer Forum Europe by eminent opinion formers including
academics and politicians.
‘Our brief was to create a good environment in Europe for Pfizer’s
products and our aim is to provide an open forum and favourable
atmosphere by placing advertorials in influential journals,’ says
Ferguson. The advertorials are always positioned on the leader page in
the FT and on alternate weeks opposite the Europe section in the
Advertorials are increasingly featuring in business and trade magazines
but publishers and editors tend to play down their importance.
‘They’re a very small, single figure percentage of our total advertising
revenue,’ says Ian Bedwell, publisher of business and financial titles
at VNU. ‘We don’t actively go out and sell advertorials, and as a
publisher I’m not particularly keen to see this market grow. From the
impact point of view it’s pointless having three or four in the same
Jane King, editor of Reed’s Hospital Doctor, says ‘We’re vigilant about
the reasoning behind advertorials. When someone suggests an advertorial
I ask what they want to achieve and say there may be a better way, say,
a loose-leaf insert or a news story.’
Nevertheless, Hospital Doctor has run advertorials and most business
and trade magazines will consider them if your approach is right.
Gayle Walker, account director of specialist healthcare agency Complete
Pharma PR, is working on a number of advertorial projects and says ‘the
pharmaceutical press has really got its act together on advertorials as,
to a certain extent, have the nursing publications, but when it comes to
more specialist medical sectors, including doctors, it’s very limited.
‘Pulse and GP are more promotionally minded, but a lot of titles prefer
supplements or inserts. I’ve had mixed expieriences doing advertorials
with publications - some understand but others try to do something too
lightweight and promotional. It’s a question of choosing publications
carefully so you get the right in-house talent and the right image for
The medical press may only just be starting to accept advertorials, but
Martin Ellis, director of healthcare at Cohn and Wolfe, says he is
‘convinced advertorials will become as important as conventional
‘While they are new and different I believe readers are far more likely
to read advertorials than adverts,’ he says. ‘A well constructed
advertorial should get readers as interested as editorial. Where we’ve
done advertorials we’ve probably doubled the number of messages we would
have achieved with editorial.’
In the consumer press market, advertorials continue to go from strength
to strength. Pat Morrison, promotions director of Conde Nast’s House &
Garden and Brides & Setting Up Home, says ‘advertorials are absolutely
essential, they make up 35 per cent of Brides’ advertising revenue, and
20 per cent of House and Gardens’.
According to Morrison, Conde Nast actively goes out to sell advertorials
and has about one copywriter per title who handles promotions. ‘We
create all our promotions and use house photographers and stylists. We
want copy to be as knowledgeable as possible, so it is sometimes written
by journalists on the titles,’ she says.
Morrison believes advertorials have improved over the last couple of
years: ‘They’re slicker and more authoritative. You’re getting fewer
with four different companies on a page, and more solus promotions by
companies wanting to reach a specific market’.
Recent Conde Nast promotions clients include Debenhams, Maurice Lacroix
watches, Royal Doulton, Alfred Dunhill and Moet & Chandon. ‘Clients are
all across the board, and we get a lot of repeat business,’ says
The bad news for PR agencies is that Morrison says she has never run a
major PR- led promo in Brides or House & Garden. ‘We work with
advertising agencies on larger accounts. PR agencies have a good
understanding of the messages, but don’t have the budgets to do major
advertorials,’ she says.
The National Magazine Company, whose titles include Cosmopolitan, Good
Housekeeping, Harpers and Queen and Country Living has 50 per cent of
the advertorials market in women’s magazines, according to director of
promotions, Jennifer Sharp.
In January the company centralised its promotions department, which is
now around 30-strong, to maximise revenue and its in-house capability.
Sharp affirms that advertorials represent a ‘very substantial part’ of
the company’s advertising revenue, but was unwilling to give precise
Advertorial costs, including space and production, range from pounds
13,600 for a double page spread in Harpers & Queen to around pounds
29,000 for a DPS in Cosmopolitan, which Sharp acknowledges comes out as
more costly than a display advertisement. ‘You pay a premium for having
the implied endorsement of the magazine,’ she says.
But there are definite benefits. ‘Advertorials are positively enjoyed by
readers. They know they’re paid for, but our research shows advertorials
are definitely seen as informative, rewarding, visually exciting and as
representing added value advertising,’ says Sharp.
She says that the advertorials market moves in waves - ‘sometimes major
clients decide they only want to do advertorials, sometimes they want to
do display advertising’ - but confirms that PR agencies play a crucial
role in encouraging this market.
‘They’re often the key to introducing the concept of advertorials to
clients. PR companies recognise the value of promotions, and are often a
touchstone of taste and judgement with clients,’ says Sharp.
Advertising director of the Evening Standard, Peter Gould, is very
positive about the advertorials market: ‘Advertorials are our fastest
growing sector and have been for two years and probably make up five per
cent of our total revenue.’
‘Business advertorials have grown five-fold in the last year. Where
advertisers are seeking response they get a far higher hit rate from
advertorials than advertising,’ says Gould.
‘Advertorials are still PR- driven and probably always will be,’ says
Gould. ‘PR people understand the nuances of what clients are trying to
achieve and will work to fit the message to the medium,’ he concludes.
Case study: Adding PEPs to the Virgin portfolio
Since the launch of its Personal Equity Plans, Virgin Direct had run
advertisements in national papers and a mould-breaking television
campaign, but wanted to broaden the target audience for its PEPs.
‘There was a need to package PEPs in an attractive fashion to people in
the middle to upper income bracket who are not habitual readers of
editorial in the personal finance sections of national papers and not
particularly well informed about PEPs,’ explains Consolidated
Communications senior account executive Charlotte Thomas who acted as
art director on the project.
Consolidated created a series of advertorials which have appeared in the
news sections of the Daily Express, Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, Times,
Sunday Times,Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Evening Standard since
According to Thomas, the advertorials ‘ explain the benefits of the
product in greater depth than would be possible in Virgin Direct’s
punchy, but terse advertising style’.
The advertorials branded as ‘Tax Free Zones’ featured quirky photography
of Richard Branson, the instantly recognisable chairman of Virgin. One
piece headed ‘On the track of the best PEP’ featured a photograph of
Branson with a bloodhound.
Another headed ‘Time’s running out’, planned to coincide with the end of
the tax year, includes of shot of Branson with an egg-timer. ‘We’ve
developed a photo library particularly for advertorials with shots that
people can identify with and are fun,’ says Thomas.
Stylistically, the advertorials are in keeping with the publications in
which they appear, with similar typefaces and point sizes, but in no way
attempt to mimic editorial.
Accompanying text, written by Consolidated director Jonathan Shore is
straightforward and concise. ‘We’ve taken it totally back to basics.
We’re getting information across so readers can make their own
judgement,’ says Thomas.
As an integrated agency, Consolidated produces the advertorials in-
house, although a general design company is used to do some of the on-
screen work and MGM buys the advertising space.
So how effective have the advertorials been? The direct response
telephone number on the advertorials enables Virgin to measure exactly
how successful each piece is. ‘On the track of the best PEP’ has so far
generated in excess of pounds 1 million of sales, according to Thomas.
Now Virgin Direct is moving into life insurance and ‘will certainly use
advertorials for this product,’ according to Consolidated media
director, Will Holt.
Putting it together: Tailor-made advertorial packages
You’ve decided that advertorials are a good idea, but where do you go to
get them written and produced? Are PR agencies, publishing house, or a
combination of PR agency, publication, advertising agency and design
company the answer?
One choice is to turn to an advertorials specialist. ‘PR agencies are
very willing to work with us - they often don’t have the facility to
book the space and nowadays so many PR people aren’t journalists so
they’re happy to dump the writing and production on us,’ says Gillian
Woolcock, managing director of one such specialist, Aveling Corporate
Opinions differ among public relations people about who should produce
advertorials. Gayle Walker, account director at Complete Pharma Public
Relations says: ‘In my opinion you do advertorials because you want to
have third party input. Editorial staff know what readers want and
you’re looking for their knowledge and background to make the article
Robert Hipkins director of the business and technology division of
Charles Barker says: ‘I prefer to use a freelance copywriter or
journalist. Advertorials work best when you take a story and write it as
a journalist would do. A lot of PR companies start from the premise
they’ve got to use every single spare millimetre of space and are under
pressure from the client who’s desperate to get as much information in
as possible. They think they’re writing objectively but it’s very
Like Hipkins, Terry McGrath, account manager at Edelman, says that the
choice of who produces the advertorial depends on the type of
publication and style of the piece. ‘We usually write them for trade and
regional business magazines,’ says McGrath, ‘but for an advertorial for
UPS in the Evening Standard we used one of their recommended freelance
journalists because we wanted to keep true to their style.’
Gareth Zundel, group PR director at hi-tech and medical specialist
Harvard Public Relations, insists ‘we like to write most advertorial
copy ourselves, as writing is a strong point of the agency’. However,
when it comes to layout Zundel feels ‘part of the credibility of
advertorials is that they’re in the style of the publication, and we
tend not to exert too much control over layout’.
Some publications insist on producing advertorials themselves, and the
role of PR agency or client is reduced to simply providing a brief and
Pat Morrison, promotions director of Conde Nast titles House & Gardens
and Brides and Setting up Home, says: ‘Usually the idea of advertorials
is that we create something that fits into our titles.’
Conde Nast’s role normally extends to styling and shooting a promotion,
but Morrison does concede that ‘if a client can’t afford this we would
use transparencies they supply’. Production costs range from about
pounds 1,000 to pounds 5,000 per page depending on the creative brief.
National Magazines director of promotions, Jennifer Sharp says: ‘We
would accept material from PR people as information, but we don’t want
them to write in the style of our magazines. We prefer to add the
National Magazines touch, it’s what we’re here for.
‘Advertising agencies tend to be involved on the negotiation side; on
the creative side we often deal with the client, or they may recommend
their PR agency acts as a conduit,’ she adds.
In the Evening Standard, advertising director Peter Gould says
advertorials are ‘written by retained freelances who understand layouts
and styles and have satisfied the requirements of the editorial
By and large it seems that if you want to place an advertorial in a
consumer publication you will probably need to use the in-house team
and/or their regular freelance. If your target is a trade journal it is
far more likely you will at least have the option of writing it
yourself. But you will still need to work very closely with the
publication, and make sure you stay within their guidelines.
Case study: Pylorid makes a medical breakthrough
Last September Cohn and Wolfe placed what director of healthcare Martin
Ellis believes was ‘the first ever advertorial for a prescription only
product to appear in the medical press’ when a single page advertorial
for Glaxo Wellcome’s new drug Pylorid, aimed at combating stomach
ulcers, appeared in Pulse and Hospital Doctor.
‘If we’d sent a press release these publications would probably just
have said that Pylorid had been launched, but we wanted to say a lot
more,’ explains Cohn and Wolfe account manager Angie Searle. The
advertorials appeared the week the drug was launched and were supported
by news stories.
‘Pylorid is an interesting but complex product and we felt it was
important to tell the whole story,’ says Ellis. ‘We felt it was
important to split the advertorial into a number of news pieces about
the product. A reader is far more likely to stop and read at least one
short story than a long one.’
Although they were breaking new ground, Ellis says Cohn and Wolfe got a
very positive initial reaction from the editors concerned. ‘In principle
editors don’t have a problem with advertorials. It was a case of working
closely with the editors and taking them through our thinking, keeping
them fully involved and not springing any last minute surprises.’
Cohn and Wolfe handled the entire production process, not only writing
the copy but also designing the layout which was supplied on disk to the
‘The art of advertorials is getting the right balance between news
interest and the educational and product messages,’ says Ellis. There
always has to be news value otherwise it looks like advertising and
defeats the whole purpose of advertorials. It’s up to the agency to come
up with a layout that looks as close as possible to the editorial
without compromising the journal.’
Ellis is convinced that ‘advertorials are not perceived by readers as
straight advertising so I would hope more of the story is read than if
it was advertising copy’.
Since the appearance of the advertorial, Ellis claims to have seen an
increasing number of advertorials in the medical press, but is wary of
overkill. ‘We don’t want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg,’ he