New York Times Sells Front-Page Ads

Journalistic Objections Overcome by Need for Revenue

By Published on .

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The New York Times unveiled a display ad on its front page, despite decades of fear that advertising there could contaminate the journalistic product or brand.

New York Times front page ad
Enlarge

Today's ad, which promotes CBS, occupies a strip of real estate two and a half inches high at the very bottom of page A1.

Today's ad, which promotes CBS, occupies a strip of real estate two and a half inches high at the very bottom of page A1. That makes the unit less noticeable than the boxes available on the front of Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal, but it's still a big departure for the Times.

In a statement this morning, the Times pitched the turnabout as win for marketers. "In 2006 we began testing ads on some section fronts and received a very positive response from the advertising community," said Denise Warren, senior VP-chief advertising officer for the New York Times Media Group.

Taking its situation seriously
But it's also a clear reflection that the Times is taking its situation seriously, something that was questioned after a recent presentation to investors and analysts. The New York Times Co. finally cut its costly dividend payments last November but drew fire for failing to suspend them altogether. "It just seems the reality is it's a very, very difficult business right now, newspapers," a questioner told executives. "And the notion that cash is flowing out of the company to the equity seems -- it seems like you may not understand the gravity of the situation."

In a funny way, the awful business environment may have actually freed the business side to sell the ads without worrying about an outcry from the newsroom.

"While three years ago the notion of the august New York Times serving up front-page ads would have stirred emotions far and wide, today it's a one-day story," said Ken Doctor, a newspaper vet turned media analyst for Outsell, a research and advisory firm. "When someone doesn't have enough to eat, he doesn't quibble about the source of the food."

Made their peace
Many other papers have already made their peace with front-page advertising. The Journal began selling front-page units in 2006, carefully milking their potential to get big commitments from the five marketers allowed to buy them each year.

"Every single purchase has with it an annual commitment, an online commitment," said Michael Rooney, chief revenue officer at Journal parent Dow Jones. "Some are multiyear, and some are global as well."

With such prominent ad units, of course, it's easy to wonder how the big articles next to them hurt or enhance their effectiveness. General Motors and Hewlett-Packard ads have bumped up against negative coverage of their own companies.

The front of the Journal's Marketplace section today, on the other hand, shows an Oracle ad next to an article pegged to the Consumer Electronics Show. That's an adjacency Oracle might have liked to arrange -- which in turn is a possible suspicion that bothers opponents of these ads. Mr. Rooney said the paper never talks about news articles with advertisers. "It's just not a conversation we would ever have," he said. "Whether it's the B section, the A section or anywhere in the paper, we sell our audience."

Off the table
Last June The Washington Post's new publisher, Katharine Weymouth, told Ad Age that front-page ads remained off the table. "I've had advertisers beg me to put ads on the front page, and we're not ready to do that," she said. The same goes for ads on Post-it notes affixed to the paper. "We declined to do that because we thought it cheapened the front page."

Since then, of course, the economy has worsened dramatically. The Washington Post Co. saw print-ad revenue at its newspapers fall 14% in the third quarter.

This morning Ms. Weymouth confirmed, however, that the Post still doesn't sell front-page ads. "No," she e-mailed Ad Age. "The Washington Post does not currently accept front-page ads in our print edition."

In this article:
Most Popular