NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- It's already been brutal out there for magazines, but a recent request for proposals can only make it worse by gleefully pitting magazines against each other.
"Since we cannot just keeping adding books to the plan, we need you to help identify a book that has carried any of our business that you should replace, or steal paging from," reads the breezily written RFP by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco on behalf of Elizabeth Arden.
The cosmetics company spent $35 million in magazines last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence.
"Please determine a book on our plans that you think your title should supplant," the document continues. "We then want you to explain why yours is a better fit than that book. Support your explanation with both quantitative and qualitative information."
"Once you identify your nemesis, we'll let them know they're being 'challenged' and then it'll get really fun."
At least one magazine publisher didn't see the fun. "It's creating a negative selling environment, forcing a publisher to go in a direction that most good publishers train their teams to never go," he said, noting that he'd never seen that kind of requirement before. "It just becomes people hating on each other, where I don't see how anyone comes out better for it. I seriously think it's a way for the agencies to have us do their jobs."
But another publisher said the request was just being smart and straightforward. "Part of the game or contest of selling is bringing facts to light about other magazines," said William Schenck, publisher of Rolling Stone. "Some people call it negative selling. Some people believe that it's just part of the business that we do."
"Clearly in this case," Mr. Schenck added, "Goodby is seeing that there might be some value in having magazines identify weak spots in their competitors' story."
A spokeswoman for Goodby said she was unable to comment. A spokesman for Elizabeth Arden did not respond to phone messages left seeking comment.
The RFP, however, doesn't even hold out much hope that all this effort at tearing down competitors will be worth it, stating, "We expect budgets to be flat to down, just so you know."
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