Pay us money, and we'll give your clients coverage

Just seen on Twitter: an extract from an e-mail received by a member of Chris Mitchell’s team at CUBE (a leading UK-based wine trade PR and events company), from a wine trade magazine advertising sales person:

We feel that one of the key functions of a PR agency is to gain earned editorial coverage for their client, and since we have such strong numbers and interest online and on social media we have a unique ability to deliver a lot of value to you and your clients in this area. In the ideal world I would like to put our time and correspondence into facilitating the best possible use of the relationship on behalf of your clients, and I would like to ask you and the team to consider what we might be able to do together.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so depressing. You would have to try hard to read this email as anything other than an offer for editorial in exchange for advertising revenue. It doesn’t state this, explicitly, of course, but merely hints and makes suggestions, in a rather ugly way. Terms such as ‘gain earned editorial coverage’, ‘deliver a lot of value to you’, ‘in an ideal world’ and ‘consider what we might be able to do together’ leave little room for doubt.

If media is to have any credibility, advertising and editorial have to be kept separate. Quite simply, the quality of media suffers if this is not the case. There’s a moral side, as well – readers expect coverage to be editorially justified, and for any advertorial to be marked as such. It is dishonest not to stick to these reader expectations. The world of trade media, it seems, is quite a murky one in places.

Whoever is in charge of the publication whose advertising sales team behave like this should be ashamed. But I suspect it’s pretty normal behaviour, sadly.

13 comments to Pay us money, and we’ll give your clients coverage

  • Ugh that IS depressing, and I can probably take a gander at a few publications…As you say though, I think it’s unfortunately more common practice than any publication will every admit to.

    Good on you and Cube for exposing it. The more it’s out in the open, the better.

  • Hi Jamie…. I’ve been told the same thing too… no comment on who but I was amazed… … I thought to myself, why should we be paying someone when actually our stories are pretty interesting… yes ok they may drive hits but how do they actually determine the value of that… does it turn into sales? Not that I have seen. Being in magazines is luck – it’s your ability to tell a good story and have good images and to be relevant to that industry/trade and the consumer. If your release is lame and irrelevant then no, why should they publish it. An importer or even ourselves with Winestars World would happily place an ad if we felt it was going to help us increase awareness etc. But to be told that to collaborate or to get written up that one has to pay a significant fee is not appropriate…. It’s like telling a supermarket buyer hey here’s GBP 50,000 – take my Pinot Grigio… That I know has happened around the world but it IS unethical!

  • Par for the course, sadly. But having heard this story from wineries, so many times. I really wonder, if it is a BIG issue, or a dirty one, why nobody who has received the letter is willing to help stop it.

    I’ve asked wineries/regions/and others to state it on the record, and they won’t. Shouldn’t the industry hold these magazines to some standard? Or try to help others learn the truth.

    Or is the wine trade to fragile? To afraid to rock the boat?

  • Nicolo Regazzoni

    In Italy I have worked for many years (and I am still trying to work) as a wine journalist. Sadly I am not surprised at all in reading what you have written in your post, Jamie. In Italy the wine trade media has always published articles in exchange for advertising revenue. The question is: this unethical model (for the wine industry and for the wine journalists/bloggers themselves) can be replicated on-line? Of course it can. And what can we do to stem this situation? I do not know the answer. I think there are many Pr agencies that are used to work in a certain way and they are trying to work in the same old way. The problem is that many publishers/journalists/bloggers believe that they cannot survive without the “pay us money, and we’ll give your clients coverage” model. Are they to blame? Yes, they are, but I still have many unanswered questions about the future economic sustainability of on-line wine journalism.

  • steve connolly

    This goes way beyond wine too. I often see so called “health articles” in magazines which are blatant sales pitches for prescription medicines so that doctors can be pressured into prescribing them (direct to consumer advertising of prescription only meds is banned in the UK). Producers have products to sell and magazines have advertising to sell. The solution is transparency. Sometimes magazines have “Sponsored Articles” where the relationship is clearer.

  • Alex

    Completely agree with Ryan. Standard practice with a certain number of publications…and sadly the wine trade really is just too afraid to speak up. But the question is why?

  • Michael Yonchenko

    I think it is naive to think that it is wrong to believe that there is something immoral or seedy about having to pay a PR agency for this service. Yes, of course, one can perform this work for themselves. But one must establish a good working relationship with the press in order to get the kind of coverage wanted for your worthy story about your product. You send out press releases and emails; you leave phone messages. You don’t get any response. Do you have any idea regarding the number of press releases, emails and phone calls a columnist gets each day? And given that reporters and columnists are being squeezed by budget cuts it has been even more difficult for them to find the time to sift through these correspondences for stories. IT is also important to remember that those who write about food and wine are not reporters, they are usually columnists. They don’t do investigative reporting. REPORTERS, not COLUMNIST do that.

    A PR agency has spent years cultivating a good working relationship with columnists and are very careful regarding what information they send out. They make sure the story is well-vetted. Rest assured that they can get your story under the nose of a good columnist more likely than you could yourself. It is also important to know that a good columnist NEVER let’s a PR agent write their story for them. They use this info as a lead on a possible good story and nothing more. A lazy reporter, an unethical columnist, does otherwise. But be very weary of ANY publication who will give you ink in exchange for advertising. This is as unethical as it gets in journalism. If a PR agency recommends this then dump them. If they are will steal for you than they will steal from you.

    Public relations and advertising are different but accomplish the same goal using different tools. PR agencies know how to work in the world of public information dissemination. Hiring a good PR agent who is effective and honest allows you to do what you do best…make wine worthy of public acknowledgment.

    And by the way…I don’t work in public relations!

  • Dan

    I was watching a network television show last night, “New Girl.” Her date was driving a Ford and demontrated one of the features. Another character refered to a Ford model car in a humorous way, then lo-and-behold, there was a Ford commercial during the next break. They call it “product placement” in Hollywood. I know it’s entertainment media and not journalism but magazines compete for those dollars. Why doesn’t broadcast (and movies) have to identify paid content? They should have a scroll saying “Advertainment,” the way magazines have to use the term “Advertorial.” I’ll call my congressman when I have a minute.

  • Hi Jamie, hope the Cape trip was refreshing ;). Sadly I hear this or should I say overhear this so often at events, at press gatherings and wherever people gather and try to dig for fresh leads. This coming week at Vinitaly as I interveiw and write, I will hear this spoken or unspoken hundreds of times. It makes our jobs that much harder and the market that much more jaundiced. I do believe this is why social media has come into its own, when my followers see Ive pinned a wine to pinterest or facebook that I had in a bar or restaurant, they are that much more likely to take the recommendation and trust it as genuine, rather than the wine glossy mags, to read a four page glowing column on a wine that could only have been written in exchange for cash, such is the market we work in. ( who buys these mags anyway?it must be a strinking market) Salute!

  • Jamie, I just don’t see a problem with this. This is what many PR firms are selling, and it’s what most consumer product companies, not just wine and spirits, are trying to buy. It’s the way the PR world works.

    It’s why they make more money than we do, it’s why they get fired when we don’t deliver the articles they promised, and it’s why PR people are constantly pestering us “Did you get the email I sent about that new Malbec release?” Which is why, less money notwithstanding, you and I are on the other side of that divide.

  • Alex lake

    Yup, agree with all the above.

    Mind you, the standards of non-bribed journalism seem so low.

    Only this evening, a very thinly disguised advertorial from some vaguely attractive woman selling over-priced zero-dosage Champagne in The Evening Standard. The journalist couldn’t even be bothered to say that other brands were available. I suspect that the company involved didn’t buy advertising in ES, but with journalism like that, who cares?

  • Damien

    Yet no-one’s commented upon the beautiful irony of how you came across the email. As your title says, “pay us money, and we’ll give your clients coverage”, and it was sent to a “PR and events company”. Isn’t their entire reason for existence?!

  • Catherine Monahan

    What no-one mentions here is that most wineries and most importers are dealing with tiny margins (mainly the off trade importers of wine) and to spend 1000s of pounds on something with no ROI is not passed by directors/boards etc. People who advertise in the Evening Std are advertising in a magazine that has HUGE coverage and has rates and are normally not wine companies and have huge marketing budgets. And fair enough – it’s (ES) targeting the consumer. But the point here is that the wine trade magazines don’t target the consumer – other than Decanter and to charge for writing up a story isn’t really appropriate… everyone is trying to make a living, keep their businesses alive, in an environment where duty has just gone up again and sucks the importer’s profits down further and we should all be helping one another – how this is happening now and not 5-10 years ago when marketing budgets were actually substantial is beyond me.

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