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Bridging the editorial/advertorial divide

Smart journalists have always known the value of a great relationship with a PRO.

Not with the cold-calling PR who rings to ask for a ‘future-features list’ (in 25 years of being a journalist, I never saw one!), but journalists really do appreciate the nuanced PR who understands the individual editorial remit, and adds value and insight by being a source of genuinely great story ideas.

These days, smart journalists also know something else – they need their PR friends more than ever. These are challenging times in editorial offices. A declining print market, slimmed-down staffing and a digital proposition that has yet to earn its keep, mean that many budgets are in crisis. So what can the flagship print media brands do to survive and thrive?

In my view the answer rests in redefining the archaic church-and-state relationship between editorial and advertorial staff. For decades the solution to editorial integrity was to totally divorce the highly talented editorial team from their commercial brethren. This cast iron approach is fine in times of plenty, but increasingly unrealistic.

And there are other solutions. And there have to be because, put bluntly, in many cases the interesting stuff can only be done if someone else is paying for it.

Which means that it’s never been a better time for commercial brands to work with media. This is not a power trip excuse for clients, it’s a chance to be a part of the creative process. For a brand to truly engage, it needs to approach the situation as a partner, not a pay cheque. Done right, that’s powerful stuff.

One of my last projects as deputy editor of Red, was to help broker a deal with Sky. It was a textbook case of how an editorial team and a client’s communications team can unite to produce just the sort of innovative content that readers crave.

At Red, we wanted to offer readers the chance to boost their digital skillset, whilst Sky wanted to cement its position as a champion of women in tech roles. Our objectives were aligned. Crucially, the initial discussions were between myself and the client, with editorial integrity at the heart of our brainstorming. Only when we had an idea that met the objectives of both parties, did Red’s sales team step in to talk money.

The result? A series of print, digital and live events that Red’s readers will love, plus good results for both parties. Job done.

This open-mindedness has to work both ways, and not all editorial teams are as attuned to it as Red’s. One client shared a cautionary tale with me. After working on a project with another magazine, she wasn’t thanked in the editor’s speech to launch it, purely because that particular detail wasn't stipulated in the contract. Cue a furious client, and the end of the commercial relationship with that particular magazine. More fool them.

Equally, a publishing sales director attempting to strong-arm an editor to cover a story, simply because a relevant client has budget to spend, won’t cut it either. Consumers can smell that particular paid-for rat a mile off and we all lose out if media brands lose credibility.

So for me it’s time for the communications industry to think like editors on behalf of our clients. We know that media brands are looking for commercial solutions to future-proof their industry, so let’s find new ways to collaborate with them.

Let’s be the brokers between client and media, to develop editorially-powered initiatives that will delight and engage. It’s time to ditch the press release mindset, and instead look at how our clients can be an integrated part of the story-telling process. The media brands left standing in five years’ time will be the ones that have swapped the church and state relationship between editorial and advertorial staff in favour of a far more creative but equally reader orientated relationship.

Written by Saska Graville, previously deputy editor of Red magazine, and now director, consumer lifestyle at Ketchum London

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