ADVERTISING VS. EDITORIAL: Are you giving away your valuable ad space for free? – Candice Sabatini

As a beauty, fashion and travel writer the formula to get me to tell my readers about a company’s product or place is a very straightforward one.

I receive approximately three hundred email pitches a day from publicists who want to send me samples or invite me to their press event, spa or hotel in hopes that I’ll like it enough to review it. Additionally, as the publisher of an online magazine, I have to worry about getting advertisers in order to stay in business. This advertising and editorial balance is the same whether the publication is a glitzy glossy with a one hundred year history, or a start-up digital. Advertising and sponsorships are what keep us all in business.

Compared to the glossies, online magazines, sites, and blogs charge pennies for their ad space. A full page ad in a print fashion magazine will cost anywhere from $20,000.00 to $60,000.00 per page while a page in a digital outlet can run from $300.00 to $3,000.00. Frankly, chump change for a large company.

So then why am I getting requests to post advertising placements from publicists trying to convince me that it’s editorial content? Do they think I’m that stupid or perhaps only naive? Yes, of course lauding your client’s latest creations and sending me samples in hopes I’ll want to tell my readers about it is editorial and there’s no charge. However, asking me to post your client’s consumer event, online contest, latest television commercial, gift-with-purchase or half price sale isn’t. It’s 100% pure advertising, and I’d be happy to post your ad for my readers to see…for a fee of course. Isn’t that fair?

The requests I’ve received are insulting enough to make one’s head spin. Here are three of the classics:

* A multi-million dollar fashion chain is having a three day shopping event with a celebrity, along with dozens of beauty and clothing vendors. A portion of the sales will go to the celebrity’s charity. (no percentage specified). They requested that I run an ad for their sale in my magazine and support it with tweets and Facebook posts.When I asked for a reasonable fee, I was told “There’s no media budget” for this. I politely responded that since the fashion company, the celebrity, the vendors, and her PR firm are all making money on this venture, why should we, the tiny online (and “poorest”) company work for free? She never replied.

* A billion dollar perfume company rented the park space near Macy’s, hired models to arrive in limousines and hand out samples of their latest men’s & women’s fragrance to people in the street. They requested that I post the event prior to the date to help create a buzz, and even asked that during the event I send someone from my team with a camera to the location to take pictures and tweet them from our twitter account. For all this work they would send me a bottle of perfume. When I asked about payment, I was told they couldn’t afford it. Nerve! Somehow there was a budget for the models, wardrobe stylists, photographer, makeup artists, hair stylists, publicists, limo drivers, NYC permits and street security; but they couldn’t find money to pay for the ad? Of course they could, but they wanted digital media to post it for free, and used words like “fun” to try to lure me. Fun for you maybe!

* A marketing person from a huge media company that owns both print and online magazines contacted me to post their contest requiring my readers to click through to one of their digital magazines with the promise of $500.00 worth of cool stuff to the winner. They were seriously requesting that I send my readers away from my magazine pages to theirs so they could garner more subscribers. For this one, I didn’t request an ad fee, I simply asked for reciprocity. I suggested we run simultaneous contests. I could easily get $500.00 worth of great swag from my vendors to give as prizes, and so we’d run each other’s contest and create a win-win scenario. We’d both get new subscribers and give away great prizes. Cool idea, huh? For some reason they didn’t see it that way. They thought that only I should run the contest and send my readers to their site, but they’d send me a pair of designer sunglasses. Whoo Hoo! A polite email to a company EVP got me a “We’ll handle this internally” reply, which probably meant, “We’ll get another sucker to do this”.

Why am I getting more and more of these requests? I can only guess that it’s because some in the digital world are giving away valuable ad space for free and haven’t been taught the difference between advertising and editorial. I realize that many start-ups need to draw new readers in and will place posts with celebrity names, and big brands in order to attract hits to their site. That’s understandable; but keep it as editorial, don’t post ads for free. If you only have a small readership, keep your fees low. That’s fair. Charge for ads, if you don’t, it’ll come and bite you in the butt later on. I can promise you that.

Candice Sabatini is a beauty, fashion and lifestyle writer and is the co-Editor in Chief and Publisher of the first online beauty magazine, est. in 2003. As an expert in skin care and fragrance Candice is considered a top beauty influencer by beauty companies and professional industry organizations. She’s been on radio talk shows, media panels, and is a judge annually at the personal products division at the NY Gift Show. As an entrepreneur, Candice and her business partner, B. Kim Taylor, purchased earlier this year, making them the first editors to buy the magazine for which they write. Twitter: @SabatiniOnStyle and @BeautyNewsNYC