FOCUS: ADVERTORIALS; Securing write of way from editors

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

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

advertising space’.

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

your products.’

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

10 February.

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

more acceptable.’

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

perhaps photographs.

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


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