By Nestor E. Arellano

Nestor Arellano

Over the years the line between advertising and editorial content has become murkier and murkier. The continuing exodus of print titles to the Web and mobile realm and the increasing urgency of cultivating a social media presence are not helping to make the line any clearer.

There are thousands of Canadian magazines, mostly published by businesses with less than 100 employees, that are struggling to understand and employ tools such as mobile applications to reach out to tablet and smartphone toteing readers or figuring out how to crack the SEO riddle of Google’s search engine.

How do you make money without screwing your readers? This according to Peter Carter, editor of the Today’s Trucking magazine, is the question many print and online magazine publishers are pondering. Carter moderated the session: Money Makers: New – and ethical – ideas for advertising and editorial at the MagNet on Wednesday.

Panelists of Wednesday’s session attempted to answer where to draw the line between developing advertising revenue and well – prostitution – by providing examples from their respective publications’ campaigns and projects.

I found the projects presented by Laura Dunphy, publisher of Salon magazine, Erin McLaughlin, editor-in-chief of Style at Home and Canadian Gardening and Tara Tucker, associate publisher and national sales director of LOU LOU Magazine very intriguing and their results enviable.

Although these publications are among the larger consumer and business-to-business titles, I think many publishers in the SMB ranks can benefit from their experiences.

For instance, Dunphy said Elevate magazine, which deals with anti-aging and wellness topics, has always had the problem of physicians hounding them to publish a profile about them. Elevate’s solution was to get editors to work with artists, production staff and the client to develop the profile pieces in a way that adhered to the magazine’s style and appealed to the editor as well.

Dunphy said the assignments were carried out in such a way that “editors could explore different approaches.” This, she said, encouraged editors and artists to “to try new things.”

The pieces also needed to offer identifiable benefits to the readers. “If the stories would not tackle topics or issues that did not address the needs of our readers, we did not do them,” said Dunphy.

A kitchen renovation contest involving Swedish furniture manufacture Ikea helped boost magazine sales and subscriptions for the McLaughlin’s publishing company.

Editors of the magazine had a kitchen remake courtesy of Ikea and readers got to vote who they thought had the best kitchen renovation. The winning reader also got a free $25,000 kitchen renovation from Ikea.

McLaughlin said she found no conflict of interest in the arrangement. She also said that the contest provided very good value to the magazine’s readers because it served as an exciting event that got them involved in an activity spearheaded by the publication. “Readers really followed the series because this was something that resonated with them,” said McLaughlin. “Ikea was also footing the bill for the kitchen renovation for our reader.” She said magazines sales shot up because of the contest.

A very popular issue of Lou Lou was one that featured a faux Visa card stuck to the cover of the magazine. The back of the card held the address of a Web site where readers could join a draw for a chance to win a pre-paid credit card from Visa, according to Tucker.

“This was one of our most popular issues. People just snapped them up at the newsstands,” she said. She too, does not see any conflict of interest in featuring a brand so prominently in the front page of the magazine.

For her, the benefit to the readers outweighed any argument against the campaign. Visa paid for the card and poly bag packaging of the magazines and financed the prepaid give-away credit cards which Lou Lou readers got. The magazine got massive sales and Visa won massive exposure. It was, Tucker said, a win-win situation.

When I was in studying journalism and until a few years ago ads were sort of a dirty word in editorial. And yet, advertising is arguably the lifeblood of any publication, more often than not when they dry up so does the publication.

Today, this line seems to have gotten fainter and fainter. It is interesting to note that the criteria focused on by the speakers, was that entering into this “partnerships” with advertisers was that the campaign provided a benefit to their readers.

Don’t get me wrong, I think considering payback for the reader is commendable. However, I remember that there was a time when an arms length approach to advertisers was observed by editorial to ensure that they maintain some modicum of independence and avoid advertisers from being able to influence editorial content. This might not be something readers can take to the shopping mall like a prepaid credit card, but in some ways it is a benefit of higher value.

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