A freelance editor recently shared with me portions of her portfolio of work, including special sections produced for the Pioneer Press in 2006, and I couldn’t help but interrupt with a “Wow, I remember that!” Only nine years ago, there were dozens of ads in the paper.
As I write this column, it’s early July and I just finished going through the Star Tribune, noticing that—as has been the case of late—there is almost no advertising in its sections. On this day, there are a few (and ironically, the biggest/best-placed happens to be an ad for Amazon.com on page A3).
Print advertising has decreased across most publications during the last 10 years—especially dailies, which have been hit hard by the reality that most people can now get news through social media and other sources well before the daily paper is published. Weeklies are struggling, and as a sign of print monthly dominance, many of them have switched or are switching to monthly magazine-like covers (one big story with nice art) instead of multiple stories, as in decades past.
Those of us who produce monthlies have our challenges as well. The reasons for this include the proliferation of lower-cost, easier-to-measure advertising through social media and websites, big data direct-to-target marketing services and other new approaches for reaching and creating relationships with prospects and customers.
These new marketing tactics can yield good results when they serve a well-thought-out strategy. The only downside in their use is the mistaken belief that they can replace the effectiveness of print advertising in well-respected monthlies. They can’t, and nothing ever will.
There are many reasons I say this, and the best summary I could find (with help from our columnist Glenn Karwoski) is from The Magazine Media Factbook 2015, produced by MPA – the Association of Magazine Media. Here are some of its findings:
While print monthlies continue to deliver results, there’s the propensity for media buyers and marketers to chase the newest, shiniest and sometimes cheaper approaches to reaching prospects and customers. And because these alternatives deliver results in their own way, we, like other print publishers, have had to adapt.
Publishing a print monthly is now only part of what Twin Cities Business does. Besides producing award-winning, trusted business content for the magazine, we originate and distribute fresh content online every weekday, twice weekly and monthly through e-newsletters, and frequently through partnerships with other media outlets encompassing radio, television and alternative online news sites. We also produce more than a dozen unique live events and partner with others on their events each year. All of our content aims to help business leaders and executives better understand general views, practices and strategies of their peers, as well as complicated industry and socioeconomic issues—combined with timely content that’s fun, interesting and enjoyable.
Each of these methods of delivering content provides ways for our advertising and sponsorship partners to reach their target audiences in new ways. In addition, our sales team helps clients produce pages, sections and supplements that read like journalistic stories but are paid-for content. They do the same with “native advertising” in our online and e-newsletter products, and even with a few live events. With all of these, TCB holds to a freshly updated, written policy to label such content as “advertising” or “sponsored.” The same goes when such messages are used in social media, including tweets.
But there’s a decades-old battle raging between those who want to stay aboveboard with such labeling of paid-for content and those who believe it is OK to purposely blur the lines so that typical readers can’t tell whether they are reading objective content where a journalist thought first and foremost of what readers needed to know (plus the writer checked the facts). And it can be challenging for us, given some of the requests our sales team receives and what some of our competitors are getting away with.
One local business publication recently ran a special regional section paid for by leaders of a rural community to promote it as a great place to do business. That story began on its cover and did not disclose it was paid-for content with a specific point of view. A month or two later, a second local business publication ran a story about a business because that company paid for it to do so. It looked identical to its editorially produced content and did not say “advertisement” or “sponsored.” There are other local examples where businessess are mentioned in stories because they advertise in the publication. And there are live events where panelists are selected because they are the clients of the firms hosting the event.
TCB continues to maintain its standards during such times, realizing that doing so enhances the brand you’ve come to trust over the two-plus decades we have existed. In turn, our print monthly remains the best way for marketers to reach affluent, active, decision-making business leaders in Minnesota.