Editors at 11 Time Inc. magazines -- including Time and InStyle -- were put to work on behalf of an advertising campaign for Google's mobile app last fall, according to Time Inc. CEO Joe Ripp.
The move illustrates how quickly the editorial-driven culture at the magazines' parent company, Time Inc., has shifted in little more than a year.
"Each editor had to come up with two to three questions per issue that were contextually relevant and would get our readers to open the Chrome app on their mobile device and ask Google," Mr. Ripp told investors Thursday during a call about the company's fourth-quarter earnings. [UPDATE: Mr. Ripp meant to refer to the Google app, not Google's Chrome app.]
In a Time magazine article about flags, for instance, the Google ad asked, "OK, Google, how many American flags are there on the moon?" An InStyle story on "The Scandal" collection at clothing store The Limited included the question, "OK, Google, who is the person Olivia Pope is based on?"
The print ads were part of Google's broader marketing push and ran in Time Inc. magazines between September and December, according to a Time Inc. spokeswoman. Mr. Ripp did not elaborate further on the ads. And the spokeswoman did not immediately respond to questions about how the ads appeared within the editorial context and which editors contributed.
"Our native initiatives are a natural complement to our creative process and consistent with our commitment to editorial standards and integrity," Mr. Ripp told investors.
Enlisting editors to work on advertisements is becoming commonplace at magazines and websites, as publishers look to entice advertisers by offering the insight and talents of their journalists. Last month, for example, Conde Nast, owner of glossy titles like Vogue and Vanity Fair, became the latest big-media company to put its editors to work for advertisers.
Not long ago this practice would have been unthinkable. At Time Inc., for example, editors erected a firewall between editorial operations and the business side. A companywide editor-in-chief was in place for many years to tend the wall. In October 2013, however, Mr. Ripp eliminated the position and told magazine editors they would now report to the business side. The collaboration with Google appears to be a result of that move.
Fourth-quarter revenue at Time Inc. fell 7% to $895 million. That fell short of analysts' expectations of about $904 million. Profits more than doubled year over year to $145 million thanks in part to aggressive cost-cutting measures.
On the ad sales front -- where Time Inc. generates most of its revenue -- sales fell 8% from the same period a year ago to $496 million. Print ads led the decline, dropping 10% to $409 million. Digital advertising was the bright spot, with sales increasing 2% to $87 million.
Time Inc.'s earnings were negatively affected by transactions last year, including its separation from CNNMoney, where the websites for Fortune and Money magazines lived until June, as well as the company's sale of its magazine holdings in Mexico.