Here are some tips on building your editorial integrity — without leaving money on the table.
In an age of fake news and photo filters, association publishers have a great opportunity to capitalize their trustworthiness with members and the industry or profession they serve.
Journalism was once a noble profession. Today, we see a story pop up on our news feed, and we view it with skepticism. Is this for real? It sure looks real, but sadly, we know from experience that we can no longer trust much of what we see. In the age of fake news and filters, it’s just too easy to be fooled.
The question is, how are you going to use this to your advantage?
Information is big business, and it seems every publisher has an agenda — unfortunately, reporting unbiased facts is not at the top of the priority list in many cases.
But the association publishing world can stand apart. Most associations put serving their members with the best information at the top of their long list of initiatives. Access to high-quality, reliable information is often the number-one reason a member joins, and we know this. We build our strategic plans counting on it and committing ourselves to delivering on that promise.
So, how can we preserve our brand as the most trusted source for the industry or profession we serve — without leaving money on the table? Here are a few ideas that come to mind (and I know some of you may disagree with one or two of them):
DON’T put an advertiser’s ad within or opposite editorial content in which they are featured. This is a tough one because sometimes the advertiser specifically asks for it. If you can’t create a policy or even style guide rule against it, convince the advertiser that this is not in their best interest. Hopefully, you are running the editorial content because it is valuable to the reader. The advertiser’s decision to support that content should not have had anything to do with your decision. Therefore, why give the reader the impression that it did?
DO offer sponsored content opportunities. These days, some vendors and service providers are investing more in research and original content than many publishers. Give them the opportunity to present their thought leadership to your members, and retain your editorial integrity by charging them for it — which leads to the next one…
DON’T make it hard for the reader to differentiate between sponsored content or native advertising and your editorial. Incorporate eye-stopping, high-impact design in your sponsored content and native advertising — just make sure it’s clearly labeled as such. Putting “sponsored content” or “advertorial” in 6-point light italic type somewhere obscure might make your advertiser happy, but readers won’t like it if they feel deceived. Find a creative way to clearly label content that’s not pure editorial.
DO make an effort to broaden your editorial sources. One of the best ways to build credibility and respect among readers is to continually seek out new sources. Yes, you have supporters that need to feel your love from time to time, but to serve members and advertisers most effectively, you must preserve the integrity of your brand by seeking out the small guys and up-and-comers who have fresh insights and perspectives to give — even though their pockets aren’t yet deep.
DON’T deny an industry leader editorial exposure because they don’t advertise. Do what’s best for the story and what will bring the most complete information to the reader. You can reward your supporters in other ways like priority booth space or premium ad positions without an up-charge. Consistently putting the story before politics will earn respect with your members and the industry you serve — respect that will eventually pay off in advertising and sponsorship dollars, even if you can’t trace a direct line to it.
DO cover your competitors. If another association or B2B plays in your space and they’ve got a good event or conference, then attend it and cover it. Covering the competition when they deserve it exudes confidence and integrity, and it’s another example of putting members’ information needs first.
DON’T sell your soul for a buck. Sometimes we offer editorial coverage to a vendor or advertiser as part of a sponsorship package. It’s not pure journalism, but it doesn’t have to be a worthless puff-piece either. Be selective with the editorial opportunities that you promise to sponsors. If they weren’t an advertiser, would they have been a preferred resource for the article anyway? If you can’t answer yes honestly, then fulfill your promise to them in a different article where they are a legitimate, respected source. Your readers will smell out a trade out from a mile away, and you’ll lose the credibility you’ve fought so hard to build.
These are just a few of the ways that you can preserve your brand and editorial integrity in a fake-news, filter-happy world. You may not be the most popular one in the room when you stand your ground, but it’s important to hold what we do to a standard — not only for the benefit of the members and readers, but for the advertisers and sponsors as well. When your flagship publication has a sterling reputation and deep respect in your industry, everybody wins.