Mixed response from agency bosses as Guardian cracks down on PR plugs

PR professionals are split over The Guardian's updated editorial code for journalists, which includes a new clause on promotions and endorsements.

The Guardian: has updated its editorial code
The Guardian: has updated its editorial code

Guardian News and Media, which also owns The Observer, published its updated editorial code of practice this week following an extensive review.

As well as updates to sections on privacy, the revised code includes a new clause addressing the inclusion of promotional material in editorial. It says that journalists should not agree to 'promote products' in order to secure interviewees.

Some PR professionals said the new clause could prevent PROs from targeting Guardian titles, but others believed it could help bring an end to 'lazy PR'.

Many agency bosses spoken to by PRWeek said the 'no plug, no interview' was commonplace. 'In some cases, if you didn't deliver that footnote or plug, it would be considered by a client as a failure,' said one.

PHA Media associate director Stuart Skinner said there was 'a danger that Guardian journalists could get left behind with a story under this new guideline'.

Shine Communications joint MD Lawrence Collis shared Skinner's concerns.

He said: 'If following this to the letter, The Guardian potentially has the chance of losing out on access to key talent that its readers are genuinely interested in and want to read about.'

However, a number of PR bosses welcomed the guidance, arguing that it could lead to better practice in the industry.

Eulogy chief executive Adrian Brady said: 'This is great news. The whole concept of the press getting access to celebrities purely for endorsement plugs makes for lazy PR, lazy journalism and a boring read for the consumer.'

Porter Novelli director Vanessa Godsal added: 'A good PR professional would only target media with personalities of interest to their audience, and it then follows that the audience will have an interest in the endorsed product as well.'

Commenting on the update, The Guardian managing editor Elisabeth Ribbans said the addition followed regular complaints from readers about the boundaries between commercial and editorial being 'unacceptably pushed with promotional plugs of no immediate relevance to the person or piece'.

The clause

In its first update since 2007, The Guardian's editorial code has 12 new or revised sections

Updated Guardian News & Media Editorial Code (section 1, page 3)


Journalists should not agree to promote through copy, photographs or footnotes the financial interests of prospective interviewees or contributors, or their sponsors, as a means of securing access to them. Promotional information about a subject or author provided in footnotes should be included only where, in the editor's judgement, it is of genuine interest or assistance to the reader.

In numbers

2002 The year the GNM editorial code was first published
2007 The year the editorial code was last updated
12 New or updated sections that cover professional journalist practice
256k The average net circulation of The Guardian*
*Source: ABC, 30 May-3 July 2011


Angie Moxham, CEO, 3 Monkeys

To be honest, this code is pretty much how most of the broadsheet media operate.

Most serious journalists' integrity means they are simply not up for plugging something unless it has innate news value or would be of interest to their readers.

It is also our job to make sure that if we are using ambassadors or celebrities, there's an authentic connection to the product or service we are promoting.

Equally, great PR amplification of sponsorship comes from far more sophisticated strategies and tactics than just relying on the old school approach.

In our view, our job is to make a sell-in to the media as compelling as possible so that journalists truly want to give us their airtime.

Lawrence Collis, Joint MD, Shine Communications

A look through the weekend's newspapers shows that PR professionals are still offering interviews with talent in exchange for a plug.

However, the best PR is when engaging content is created as part of the campaign, rather than just bolted on to the end of an interview.

Our approach to generating coverage for clients is less about badging brands to talent and more about creating content that is newsworthy.

It will be interesting to see how much this code is put into practice and if other media do follow suit.

If following this to the letter, The Guardian potentially has the chance of losing out on access to key talent that their readers are genuinely interested in and want to read about.

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