Media offered conflict of interest

A press release entitled: Motoring Magazines and Newspapers set to profit from Internet presents a very odd proposition in my view. 

In the face of challenges in generating advertising revenue, is touting the concept of Revenue Share Advertising (RSA).  This is apparently a “partnership programme” involving adverts placed in magazines – but revenue generated from 10% earned on sales generated (for purchases made from links in the adverts) rather than the advertiser paying for space. 

The release claims the “publisher has the same interest as Car Parts Direct, that is, to create sales through adverts, advertorials and promotions” – indeed, it is claimed the scheme will ensure the advertisements “appear in the best sections” of motoring titles for publishers with 500,000 minimum print run.  That is, the target is “best selling motoring magazines as well as National and Regional Newspapers.”

The lost-opportunity of selling advertising space is presented as “no costs to the publishers whatsoever – only income”.  Also any conflict of interest in titles offering up prime spots for adverts in which they gain financially is questionable ethically.

The scheme also ignores the fact that it isn’t the business of a publication to generate the sales – that is the job of the advertiser, through creative work and managing an effective conversion of response process.  No way is this a “win-win partnership” – rather it appears to just be about obtaining cheap space.  Although I suppose compared to a lot of PR as marketing or press agentry approaches, which seeks to get “free” publicity, publications would generate some income under this scheme.

It could also be argued that if publishers are confident in the power of their titles to generate sales, they would support this shift, but like a lot of talk about payment for results in respect of PR campaigns, it ignores the fact that people do not respond to communications in a simple Pavlovian way.

What is most worrying from a PR perspective is that the Notes to the person concerned include a statement that: “newspapers and magazines will be provided with promotions and press release material (the sample is the dreadful release that I highlighted from this company last month).

This implies “editorial” would be directly part of the promotion, ie advertorial, which if not clearly labelled as such, is totally unethical and misleading to readers. 

Although I think this particular idea is daft, it does further highlight PR’s digital challenges and how notions of editorial coverage are being put under increased commercial pressure.

It also makes you think about whether press releases that are purely puff for products aren’t already following this approach – without any income generated for the publishers.  But at least the decision to publish such information is not about financial kick-backs.

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.