Advertising vs. publicity
Yesterday I received a message from someone who sells advertising for a website. It seems she was peeved because I had arranged an author interview with her website, yet she was unable to get a return phone call from our advertising / promotions department. (It didn’t help matters when she spotted an ad for the book in question on a competitor’s website.) Generally speaking, I realize a lack of a response can be frustrating — although I must say I’ve encountered a handful of people who have never responded to a single phone call / email in my 10 years as a book publicist — but in this particular case, it seemed to me there was a hint of quid pro quo. I responded, explaining that since publicity and ad / promo work independently of each other, I had no influence over the decisions of that department.
It’s like church and state.
The main difference between public relations / publicity and advertising is that — while we’re both promoting a product — in PR, we don’t pay to play. No money changes hands and as a result, we’re never guaranteed coverage. Journalists make their own decisions about what to cover based on what’s newsworthy and / or what would be of interest to their audience. As publicists, our job is to inform — and to persuade as best we can — but we never “buy” coverage. Likewise, we may advertise a book in a newspaper, but the paper is under no obligation to run a review (or run a positive review) of said book.
Journalists, for their part, are siloed from their advertising departments. Because their coverage should always be neutral to all parties — and because it should always appear to be neutral — their work must be conducted independently from that of their revenue-generating colleagues. Church and state.
Yesterday’s article in The New York Times, Magazines Blur Line Between Ad and Article, discussed the boundaries between edit and advertising. Specifically, reporter Stephanie Clifford talked about how some publications — attempting to stave off the dire financial straits that have stricken so many peers — go to extremes to sell advertising, including placing ads on covers. ASME, the American Society of Magazine Editors, prohibits cover ads for ethical reasons, and magazines that run such ads are ineligible for the National Magazine Awards. (It might be argued, though, that the prestige of a National Magazine Award is small consolation for bankruptcy.) More debate this morning: Variety reports that today’s Los Angeles Times features a fake A1 news story as part of an ad campaign for the new cop show Southland.
The implication for us as authors, book publicists and others interested in books and publishing? There should never be an expectation that an advertisement will pave the way for coverage (or vice versa — that coverage will lead to an ad). That would be unethical.