PLATFORM: Don’t misplace the real value of editorial - The practice of asking PR firms to pay to see their release in print is undermining the integrity of publishing as a whole, says John Rose

I’m not surprised that the Institute of Public Relations is bringing out an updated version of Resolving the Advertising/Editorial Conflict, its code of practice guidelines.

I’m not surprised that the Institute of Public Relations is

bringing out an updated version of Resolving the Advertising/Editorial

Conflict, its code of practice guidelines.

It has to because of the untenable situation into which straight-dealing

PR practitioners are increasingly being placed by the commitment of more

and more publishers to the sale of editorial space as well as


While the number of editors relying entirely on commission from these

sales remains a small minority, the guises in which profits are amassed

from editorial space has multiplied. They include: charges for

typesetting and colour separations; free space for advertisements placed

or shared lists of clients’ suppliers; charges for a visiting editorial

team; rates for pictorially supported editorial; and now web authorising


Fail to meet a journal’s cash demand and most times your release won’t

appear in the publication.

The dilemma for IPR members, in particular, is that payment of these

charges breaches their Code of Practice which expressly forbids the

corruption of channels of communications, including the press. But

unfortunately clients or employers often condone and even encourage

payments to gain editorial exposure.

There are two reasons why I believe PR people are being unnecessarily

pressured. The first is that businesses which insist that their

employees or consultancy pay up are inciting a breach of the established

British Codes of Advertising and Sales Promotion.

The second is that the vast majority of titles which charge have little

or no effect on the market penetration or standing of a company, product

or service.

I think that PR professionals have a duty to advise clients or employers

of these two facts - to save worthless budget expenditure and to protect

a company’s reputation.

The Advertising Codes make a clear distinction between advertising and

editorial matter in their exempting clause 1.2j and stand as a

nationally recognised agreement to self-regulation, applying across the

entire print media industry.

By exempting ’press release and public relations material’ the Committee

on Advertising Practice confirms that editorial matter does not

constitute advertising. So, rightly, the IPR is urging every member to

seek client/employer agreement to add a strapline to every press release

stating: ’This news release is issued in accordance with clause 1.2j of

the British Codes of Advertising and Sales Promotion and cannot therefor

be subject to a transaction of any kind’. After all, only advertising

goes into paid space, doesn’t it?

To place a price on editorial exposure is the basest form of press


That this should have been brought about by publishers deliberately

ignoring their own industry’s self-regulatory codes compounds the

corruption to such abysmal levels that it can only be viewed with


Don’t be fooled by whines from the Periodical Publishers Association

that they have guidelines on the handling of advertising and sponsored

editorial. The PPA represents less than a third of British titles and

its guidelines do not cover the subject of this article - the conversion

of press releases into instant advertising.

If the Advertising Standards Association continues to appear ambivalent

on the flaunting of its codes by thousands of British publications, how

can responsible media personnel be expected to uphold the codes of

practice of their professional bodies in pursuing legal, honest and

truthful standards?

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