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
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