Is “Profile advertising” really that bad?

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CADCR winter 2015
The winter 2015 issue of Canadian Design and Construction Report. Click on the image for page-turning software version
profile advertising
A few pages from a recent feature profile in one of our publications. We are sensitive to pressure, advertiser value, and long-range relationships in building these features.

It’s painful to read a great blog, with wonderful content, that takes a rather serious pot-shot at your primary source of revenue. In other words, the writer knows her stuff and rightfully is going after some practices and methodologies that, when abused, result in a horrendous waste of marketing dollars. I’m referring in this case to the feature profile article, or as Susan Goulder from the U.K. describes it, Profile advertising.

Magazines offer ‘free’ editorial to companies, usually for a business profile (hence the name I use for it). In the construction industry, especially with publications targeted at architects, this is often for editorial on a specific project.

The catch is – the client that is given the free space has to give the publishing house names and details of suppliers for their business or project. By exchanging this information, the publishing house will then contact the suppliers asking whether they’d like to pay for advertising to support their client.

So the editorial is not free at all, and by doing this, the publishing house has made a relatively easy way of making money, as the suppliers often feel obligated to contribute.

Well, we’ve been publishing these feature profiles for years, and indeed I’ve seen plenty of abuses. In fact, in our early years with this form of marketing, I allowed practices that really weren’t right or fair. We took the advertisers’ money and pushed on the matter — forgetting to recognize the very important fact that the advertisers, not the business receiving the so-called free profile, are in fact our clients.

We’ve evolved our model for sustainability and integrity. This includes a 100 per cent “no pressure” rule — no one should feel coerced to advertise in someone else’s feature. And we set out to do as much as we can to provide value to the individual advertisers, often by ensuring they have full and comprehensive access to the feature’s editorial portion — so they can at least receive the “advertorial” benefit for their own business, rather than just supporting the feature profiled company/organization.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I recognize that our advertisers are part of the community and we strive to recognize this fact — and support them in their associations, causes and relationships.

Fair enough, but is the story always so good?

It is never good business to speak negatively of competitors, so I cannot identify the publications where I’ve heard and sometimes helped clean up some horror stories. Perhaps the most painful one occurred when a contractor approached me after he accepted a “profile advertising” proposal from another publisher. The contractor, thinking that our example of how to do business reflected the norm, received a rude awakening, when he found his suppliers pressured and cajoled into advertising in a feature that was poorly designed and laid out, and left a sour taste for everyone.

We offered to help out with some free advertising and editorial content for the disgruntled advertisers even though the problem had nothing to do with our publication. Our unexpected reward: The relationship with the contractor led to an invitation to take on an association-related publishing project that has, over six years, generated about $120,000 in net revenue.

Within this context, can the feature profiles be valuable, despite Goulder’s observations? I would say “yes” for these reasons:

  • A well-designed feature will indeed enhance the business of the profiled company, and thus benefit its suppliers;
  • If the supplier/advertisers receive editorial recognition and support within the feature, they can ride the coat-tails of the successful company/project and achieve positive branding recognition;
  • There are cases where decision-makers and owners, looking at successful project examples, use the profile advertising to seek out new suppliers. (Yes, we’ve received feedback from a few of our advertisers that this has happened. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, you are sometimes looking at six-figure business.)

Goulder is right, however, that you should build policies and budgets into the process, and set guidelines and rules for participation in these features. You certainly don’t need to buy everything a sales representative pitches to you. I would pay careful attention to the publication’s design, market focus and relevance in deciding on if, when and how to participate.

I welcome your thoughts on this topic. You can comment below, or email me at buckshon@constructionmarketingideas.com.

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