PRs face potential clash with clients over print ad spend, following Telegraph controversy

Reflections from within the PR industry over The Telegraph's alleged advertising deal with HSBC reveal that the situation can only get worse.

What’s your print advertising spend like this year? Mark Stringer will be asking new clients
What’s your print advertising spend like this year? Mark Stringer will be asking new clients

The Telegraph and HSBC editorial impartiality scandal shines a light, again, on something that in my mind is only going to get worse. We’ve all had experiences (especially on freesheets) where the editorial team have said: "We know your client is advertising in print, but not with us; you need to get them to advertise with us, or else we can't run editorial."

Being honest I get it. In a world where advertising revenue ensures the survival of many publications, it’s damned if I do, damned if I don’t. What clients are essentially saying is that we value the editorial team's output, but we're not sure there’s value in advertising.

But where’s the line to be drawn? Journalists need to be able to write and report on stories impartially, without being told that due to the commercial implications they need to bury or dial down the story. If we consider that there was once a rumour that Murdoch had told News Corp executives to stop criticising China as it was key strategic market to move into, then everyone has an agenda in mind.

Impartiality is always a key journalistic mantra, but we also know that PRs have for many years been brilliant at having juicy stories buried by trading off even juicier stories, whether that be for politicians, celebrities or sportspeople. However, today it appears to be ad revenue that’s driving the agenda, not just the content of the tale.

There's one unavoidable question I’m now asking all my potential new clients, before agreeing to any KPIs: "What’s your print advertising spend like this year?"

Mark Stringer is founder of PR agency PrettyGreen and sits on the PRCA Council

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