Online Exclusive: Letters to The Editor

DEBATING THE 'AD-PULL' POLICY CONTROVERSY Readers Speak Out About BP and Morgan Stanley

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NEW YORK ( -- Last week following's exclusive report on energy giant BP's new "ad-pull" policy for print publications, we published an editorial from the editorial board of Advertising Age condemning BP's action.
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Our original news report detailed an internal memo from MindShare, BP's media-buying agency, demanding that ad-accepting newspapers and magazines inform BP in advance of any news text or visuals they plan to publish that directly mention the company, a competitor or the oil-and-energy industry. It said BP's ads must be automatically pulled from any edition containing "objectionable editorial coverage." And the memo said that if MindShare was not notified of the news mentions prior to the issue’s on-sale date, immediate advertising schedule suspension will “likely result.”

The Ad Age editorial charged that BP and other corporations including Morgan Stanley were engaged in "assaults on editorial integrity and independence. By wielding their ad budgets as weapons to beat down newsrooms, these companies threaten the bond that media properties have with their audiences, the very thing that gives media their value to advertisers to begin with." Below are some of the letters we received from readers in response to the story and editorial.
-- Hoag Levins, editor,

Shame on Your Editorial
Shame on BP and Morgan Stanley? Your editorial on this matter is one of the most un-thought-out editorials I have read. I am all for editorial integrity, but if a publication is knowingly going to trash an advertiser, that advertiser should have the right to pull its ad. If a publication is worth the paper it’s printed on it makes this even more critical. A negative story, combined with a paid ad, not only negates the ad but will do even more harm to the campaign and the advertiser.

Let me be perfectly clear that I am not for releasing text of a story beforehand, only knowledge that a negative story “might” run in that issue. I find it ironic that you talk about editorial integrity when it comes to a negative story, but don't mention how publications use positive stories to sell ads. I have been approached many times with the idea that a “good, positive” story is going to run, and it would be in my client’s best interest to buy a nice big ad to go with that.

With an increasingly fragmented media landscape, every dollar has to stretch further and work harder. Negative stories must happen, and editorial staffs must not be influenced by advertising, but to ask a sales department to notify an advertiser after it has been decided to run the story of this pending negative impact is not too much to ask. “Those that attract the right audience should get the ad dollars.” For you to make this statement means you feel environment has nothing to do with ad placements. This simply isn’t true. Environment has everything to do with ad placement. Shame on anyone who doesn’t believe that.

Gary LaPage
Media Director
Orlando, Fla.
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Strongly Supports Your Editorial
After recently wrapping 24 focus groups in six markets, and three hours of street intercepts in the same six markets, in-depth interviews and other methodology details, I can reveal our recently concluded North American primary qualitative research study on consumers attitudes about social responsibility strongly supports your editorial stance on media credibility. One of the things we covered was “Information Sources” -- understanding trusted and distrusted sources of information about a brand’s behavior, corporate social responsibility, what people want to know (and don’t), where they get it, what deems a source credible (or not) and the impact of all this on brand communications.

A key insight we uncovered is a “culture of paralysis and distrust.” People want information and desire it, but inherently distrust it and are repelled by it. ... One clear underlying reason is people’s growing distrust in the media and their feeling (though perception is not always matching up with reality) that brands are intertwined with the media, so they don’t know who to trust. A mainstream, culturally aware 30-something sums it up: “You’re given the information ... but I don’t take everything they tell me, because I know there’s a purpose behind it.”

If brands are to capitalize on this global cultural shift, they -- and those advising them on marketing communications strategy/execution -- must realize the serious weight that consumers are putting on “source credibility.” It’s essential to their success, and contributes to competitive advantage.

Kierstin De West
Conscientious Innovation
~ ~ ~

BP Policy Childish and Wrongheaded
Thank you for so clearly stating your position condemning the policy of some major advertisers to make ridiculous demands of their media “partners” that they be allowed advance notice and right of pre-approval on editorial content. It is a sad day indeed for the industry to witness this odd hybrid of “Pay to Play” and “My Way or the Highway.” It is both childish and wrongheaded. I am reminded of the 1980s Audi issue over alleged unintended acceleration. Rather than pull ads from CBS, Audi instead bought spots for weeks on end on 60 Minutes, the very broadcast that skewered them in the first place. Now that’s showing some creative media thinking.

Dave Wilcox
VP-Media Director
Lindsay, Stone & Briggs
Madison, Wis.
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Journalists Are Biased Against Business
Baloney! Journalists hate corporations. I am glad to see corporations such as these retaliate against these products of American recent years academia. Personal opinion, of course, but I hate to see Ad Age (our bible when I was in the business) join the ranks of the socialists with word processors. They will not right the wrongs of America, try as they might.

John McCullough
Easton, Pa.
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News Should not Be for Sale
Thank you for standing up for integrity! I was gladdened to read your reproach regarding BP and Morgan Stanley. I buy media (12 years) and sold for the No. 1 CBS affiliate station for five years prior. The number of advertisers who pulled their ad schedules if we ran a “non-flattering” segment on them were few, but they sometimes knocked the wind out of the monthly budget if they were sizable. If I had the back luck to be the account executive for one of those clients, I was told, in no uncertain terms, that our advertisers do not determine the news nor will the news bend to suit their wallets. News integrity is all we have to sell, they cried!

The fact that these advertisers submitted a statement of terms shows that they expect if they hand over their big ad contract, then the editorial must be “friendly.” It’s nothing short of blackmail. Those editors that bend to the will obviously have no conscience when they choose to betray their audience by “omitting” the truth in exchange for money. To those news directors and editors, I’d like to suggest that their short-term thinking will likely stunt their long-term goals. Just once, I’d like to announce, “No Mr. Advertiser, you cannot sponsor Sam Donaldson’s haircut, but you are free to boycott his salon if it displeases you. His news quaff is not for sale!”

Lori Roberts
Media Buyer
Planit Media
New Orleans
~ ~ ~

Editorial Content Doesn't Support Marketer's Message
You have to be kidding, right? Publications are under no obligation whatsoever to take advertising dollars from a particular company. If you don’t like their policies, don’t take their money. Period. These companies are in business to stay in business and make money. They may choose to advertise to drive sales or support their brand image, but in either case they must do so in a way that demonstrates to their shareholders, “We’re spending our finite resources where it can generate the most good for our bottom line.” If print publications have editorial content that doesn’t support the advertiser’s message, why should they continue to run their ads? Adverse editorial content only serves to dilute the message the advertiser has paid to run. Consequently, advertisers increasingly are choosing digital formats where they can control distribution, message and tracking -- count yourselves fortunate that they haven't pulled their ads from print entirely.

Tammy Cancela
NMG Marketing Partners
~ ~ ~

Your Statement Seems Fairly Naive
As much as I appreciate your article and the guts to speak out loud what needs to be said, your statement seems fairly naive. It is a common business rule that revenue streams should be diversified in order to minimize risk. If modern media outlets ignore this rule and become more and more dependent on advertising dollars, maybe Ad Age should teach some business lessons instead. Unfortunately business ethics does not often rhyme with Wall Street.

Beat Richert
Montreal, Canada
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I Say Boycott BP
Whatever communications advantage an advertiser might naively hope to gain by linking ad dollars to editorial content will ultimately be outweighed by negative press, reader outrage and even boycotts of the company’s products. This will be the likely outcome for companies caught meddling with press freedom. To anyone who cherishes this freedom, I say begin by boycotting BP, Morgan Stanley and GM products now.

Bill Below
Paris, France
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Blackmail Tactics
If even one media venue gives in to these blackmail tactics by advertisers such as BP, then all media outlets will have to follow in order to compete for the tight media dollar. Publications must hold on to their editorial integrity. Next, product placement marketers in television and films will want creative control of scripts. You are correct in saying media outlets should serve the audience first, not the advertisers. Talk about the tail wagging the dog.

David Leedy
Mt. Kisco, N.Y.
~ ~ ~

Church and State Wall
Having worked for a publication in ad sales, a day never went by that we were not reminded about editorial vs. advertising’s church and state status. If advertisers start demanding to pull ads due to content not necessarily complimentary to their company or industry, then they should just stay out of print publications. You cannot bully the editorial department. (I must admit, I tried, and failed.) Edit is the essence of the publication. Advertising is supposed to be placed according to the demographics. One cannot tell the other what to do, and they shouldn’t. We would end up reading mundane columns, and the publication would lose its readership. Ergo the magazine would not survive. No single advertiser or a few advertisers are going to make a publication take that chance. It is just stupid!

Shari Greer
Account Executive
Total Traffic Networks
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Other Publications Should Take a Strong Stand
How nice to come into the office this morning and read your editorial. When I read the article about the editorial “pull-out” I was stunned (at some point shameless self-serving corporate behavior will have to stop “stunning” me, but thankfully I’m not that jaded yet). However, while it’s good to see Ad Age voice a loud and clear dissenting response, I hope to see other publications (with the broader reach these advertisers covet) take an equally strong stand. Hats off to you for starting the charge.

Nina Davenport
New York
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