Conde Nast Drafts an Internal 'Magna Carta' for Native Advertising

Publisher of Vogue and Vanity Fair Seeks to Codify Tactic

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Conde Nast, publisher of Vogue and The New Yorker, has asked its editors and publishers to review a roughly 4,000-word document that lays out how the company will handle native advertising online, according to several Conde Nast executives.

The document's aim is to give publishers and editors who might clash over native ads a quick reference guide to solve any disputes, the executives say. "There are things in there editors won't like, and things in there that publishers won't like," one editor said.

In codifying its handling of the tactic -- an editor called the document a "Magna Carta" for native ads -- Conde Nast is breaking from rivals Hearst and Time Inc., which have avoided putting their policies on paper.

Tom Wallace, the company's editorial director, drafted the document, which his office began showing to editors and publishers in December. It not only delves into advertising but also provides standards and practices around certain legal and privacy concerns, including how the company will handle consumer data, one Conde Nast staffer said.

Among other things, the document says neither editors nor magazine's logos can appear in native ads, according to a publisher who has reviewed it.

"With Tom handling it, I think that gives it more understanding that it needs to be controlled," a Conde Nast publisher said, referring to native ads.

Tom Wallace, Conde Nast's editorial director, has drafted a
Tom Wallace, Conde Nast's editorial director, has drafted a

The document's very existence signals the growing importance of native advertising at Conde Nast, where its high-gloss magazines are seeking to grow their digital readers and advertisers to help offset diminishing print revenues.

Several Conde Nast titles have adopted these tactics individually, among them The New Yorker and Architectural Digest. Wired, which has its own division selling and sometimes producing these ads for brands, works with Conde Nast Media Group on the production of their ads. And Conde Nast recently introduced its first corporate-wide native ad program, with ads for Pantene residing among the editorial content on the websites of magazines Self, Glamour and Lucky as well as on

The document also offers a clue about what Mr. Wallace, who through a spokesman declined Ad Age's interview request, has been up to recently. After serving as editor of Conde Nast Traveler, Mr. Wallace was in 2005 named editorial director, charged with overseeing the editorial direction of the company's magazines, according to the Conde Nast website. But some inside the company believe Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour moved onto his turf last year when she was named to the additional post of Conde Nast artistic director. Conde said then that Ms. Wintour would "curate and cultivate the creative vision for the Company, working with the extraordinary editorial talent at Conde Nast to shape its artistic inspiration and innovation across all platforms."

Ms. Wintour has since helped engineer redesigns and staff changes at Lucky, Conde Nast Traveler and Self magazines, as well as worked with editors at Glamour on their editorial product.

"I don't know if anyone here can really define their roles," a Conde Nast publisher said.

A spokesman for Conde Nast declined to comment on Mr. Wallace's job role.

A spokeswoman for Ms. Wintour did not respond to Ad Age's request for comment by press time.

Meredith, publisher of Better Homes and Gardens, is finalizing "a best practices document" around native advertising, a spokesman for the company said in an email. Other magazine publishers have stayed away from ratifying documents to codify native ad practices.

"My personal preference is to not try to legislate this but rather keep it as something that we would handle on a case by case basis," said Norm Pearlstine, chief content officer at Time Inc., publisher of People and Sports Illustrated.

A Hearst spokeswoman said the publisher of Cosmopolitan and Esquire "sticks with one overarching principle: transparency, and all 'native' content is clearly labeled as such."

A Conde Nast staffer described the company's document as "an evolving set of practices" that gives publishers and digital ad sellers a quick reference guide on what they can and can't offer brands. "It simplifies the sales process," the staffer said.

"I think it's a very wise idea," said Wenda Harris Millard, president and COO at MediaLink. "If you don't protect your readers and viewers you won't have the ad dollars you need."

But Conde Nast publishers are concerned it might curb their flexibility. "It doesn't reflect the realities of what's happening in the business," said a Conde Nast publisher. "It's very limiting."

A Conde Nast spokesman said the magazine publisher has "always had standards and practices on many topics which continue to serve the company, its clients and consumers well."

"This is no different," he added, declining to comment further.

Brent Poer, president at digital agency LiquidThread, welcomed a set of rules that helps publishers better define the practice of native advertising. "It can't just be the Wild West with ranges of inconsistences," he said. "Then it just becomes an internal version of the Hunger Games -- who will change more to win the dollars that are placed in the market?"

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