No pay, no way – how advertising spend is leading the news agenda

Advertising spend dictating the news agenda is not a new problem, but what is new, is that media outlets are starting to talk about it – this is good news, well overdue, but good nonetheless.  The Sunday Times wrote a big old feature last weekend (22nd Feb) about how the Daily Telegraph had not reported on the HSBC tax-avoidance story, because HSBC is one of its biggest advertisers.  It was a ‘one up’ opportunity for The Sunday Times, of course, but it’s refreshing to see a well-read national broadsheet bringing the issue to the attention of the educated masses.


Let me tell you – this isn’t a small issue – it’s huge, and it’s happening all over the place – regional print / national consumer – everywhere! Here are two recent examples of when our earned media opportunities have been kyboshed due to advertising spend:


Sense: “Hi Time Out Editor, I’m calling to discuss an exclusive feature that is right up the street of your readers….it ticks all the boxes of London’s hard-working entertainment-hungry, time-poor, blah, blah, blah”


TimeOut Magazine: “I really like the feature idea, but because your client’s biggest competitor advertises with us, we’re not allowed to cover anything relating to it, sorry, bye”


The client that we represent is a London-only, London-founded, independent service app that hasn’t got big budgets for advertising, and therefore relies on ‘earned media’ for brand awareness.  The ‘competitor brand’ is a US brand that is backed by Google and Goldman Sachs. Not only that, ‘said competitor brand’ doesn’t pay tax in the UK, so is having no positive impact on the glorious city of London whatsoever. Here’s a thought for Time Out: ‘Why not support the brand on an editorial level, and eventually, they will have bigger budgets to advertise?’


And here’s another recent example:


Sense: “Hi Sutton Guardian, I’m calling to ask when you’re going to be covering the local business awards ceremony and winners….?”


Sutton Guardian: “Oh no, we’ve decided not to this year as the awards organisers didn’t advertise with us.  They used to, but because they stopped, we’re making a stand and not covering it. Sorry, bye.”


The businesses that won awards were, therefore, being punished by the local newspaper.  The potential power that a piece of local editorial could have for the winning brands will further support their growth, and help them become great examples of why living and working in Sutton is great. So short-sighted.


What needs to happen?


Media needs PR content to survive.  Empty product placement pages, stories without case studies to bring them to life, and no info on exclusive new data, launch events, gigs and movie previews will make for a very boring read.  Advertising pays a journalist’s wages, I get that, but so does the money that our PR clients invest in the above – it’s just not as direct.


Advertising and editorial teams must not mix…..and our regulators must put policies in place to stop this big brand domination of the UK news agenda.  I am going to do everything I can to make this happen.  Watch this space.

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