PUBLIC RELATIONS: Wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Ad agencies are beginning to challenge PR’s key role in the booming area of advertorials, writes Cathy Bond

Ad agencies are beginning to challenge PR’s key role in the booming area

of advertorials, writes Cathy Bond

The people at Boots Healthcare were puzzled: What has Matthew Kelly got

to do with its top painkiller brand Nurofen? And why are the two being

linked in Loaded, IPC’s glossy bruiser aimed at the young male market?

Boots’ PR patiently explained that this was an advertorial, written by

Loaded journalists in typical in-yer-face style. There is a lucrative

market for Nurofen among the magazine’s wild-living, hard-drinking

readership, but would a straight ad get the message over?

Much better to sink to the level of the locker-room, reasoned Louise

Veale, account director at the agency Maureen Cropper PR. A tongue-in-

cheek survey to find out, for example, what might cure the headache

caused by the mother of all hangovers - or when the TV set goes berserk

and will only show Matthew Kelly’s You Bet - might succeed where medical

facts alone might not.

‘Something like this can test the agency/client relationship to the

limit,’ admits Veale. ‘But Boots could see that it was a method and a

market worth exploring.’

And she got a second shot at Loaded’s rampant males, too, by booking a

follow-up showing the survey results. ‘Blimey, that Nurofen

questionnaire we gave you a couple of issues back certainly got you

going,’ yelled the copy, revealing that 73% of survey respondents would

indeed take Nurofen for their backache if a disused satellite landed on

them from outer space. Is this really the brand that built its image

with arty, understated TV advertising?

It underlines the crucial role that PR can play in stage-managing

advertorial work. Before Loaded, Nurofen ‘survetorials’ tapped into the

special interests of readers of Men’s Health, Sugar and Just 17, pulling

in up to 4000 respondents per survey, as well as facts which could be

turned into news fodder for the national media.

But there are signs that PR agencies might find their involvement in

advertorial work dwindling unless they can kick-start innovative ideas,

designed to get more mileage out of the conventional, feature-led

formula. All the UK’s major magazine publishers report rising demand for

slots which look more like features than product plugs.

‘Gone are the days when you would see the same advertorial running in

several magazines with no attempt to match it to house style,’ says Ben

Soppitt, a media planner at Young and Rubicam. ‘The message now is ‘Look

what we can do together’.’

Conde Nast’s formidable line-up of glossy heavyweights is appealing

enough to advertisers looking for the editorial endorsement of brands

like Vogue, GQ or Brides. But according to Tess MacLeod-Smith,

advertising director for World of Interiors, the trick is to add value

even to the supposedly added-value advertorial - what she calls ‘going

beyond the advertising message’.

MacLeod-Smith recently co-ordinated a project devised by Conde Nast with

Young & Rubicam for Eurostar. It aimed to boost channel train passenger

traffic and extend the life of the promotion beyond a magazine’s

newsstand life.

Booklets featuring sports and cultural events across Europe were

designed for five Conde Nast titles and tipped onto advertising

promotion pages.

Lever Brothers’ media buyer, Initiative Media, went straight to Gruner

and Jahr to brainstorm ideas for an advertising promotion for a new

range of Lux bath and shower preparations, launched last month. The

brand has historically been linked with film stars. They thrashed out a

deal with Columbia TriStar, which was keen to promote its forthcoming

film Sense and Sensibility - a dream ticket combining Jane Austen with

Hugh Grant and Emma Thompson.

‘Clients need more for each advertising pound,’ says Victoria Scott,

advertising director at G&J. Best, which claims a 28% share of

advertorials placed in weekly magazines, was picked for the Lux

promotion. The feature-style spread offered free tickets to preview

showings of the film, free product samples and a prize draw.

‘Historically, conservative clients have their own agenda and have

developed requirements which they stick to,’ says Scott. ‘In these

instances, unless requested, we don’t spend a lot of time creating new

ideas. PR companies brief us thoroughly. Alternatively, there is an

increasing range of clients who want ‘something different’ or ‘something

wacky’. Here we spend lots of time working either with the PR or direct

with the client to develop something new.’

The Quentin Bell Organisation recently researched advertorials among

focus groups to find out how attitudes have changed over the years. ‘Bad

advertorials - overbranded, with big logos and product shots - drew

comments like, ‘This magazine is really going downhill’,’ says QBO

deputy managing director Shirley Hanly. ‘They were equally negative

about the brand. People today are much more advertorial literate.’

So consumer expectations have increased. At the very least, advertorials

must be a thumping good read, and to be truly distinctive, they may have

to deliver even more - a concept that Nokia explored with National

Magazines, late last year.

‘Nokia and its PR agency The Rowland Company needed a promotion that

would simplify the complex mobile-phone buying process for a primarily

female market,’ says Deborah Shannon, corporate promotions manager at

National Magazines. ‘We devised bound-in inserts for Cosmopolitan,

Company, She, Harpers and Queen and Esquire.’

There was a generic message, but copy and photography was tailored to

individual titles. According to Zoe Richardson, account director at

Rowland: ‘Nokia reported a 100% increase in calls to its information

line during the campaign.’

Sony, which finds that the cost of its camcorders can make them

difficult to promote to a youth market, was lured into Emap Metro’s Sky

Magazine when its own communications agency, A Vision, and Sky’s

promotions team came up with the idea of shooting the best, the worst

and the frankly sticky moments at rock festivals for two advertorial

spreads last year.

‘It’s entertainment,’ says A Vision director Andy Marks, ‘and relevant

to an 18- to 24-year-old market that might not be able to afford the

product yet. But it introduces the idea of video replacing static

images. Camcorder prices are tumbling and it does an overall branding

job, too.’ The spreads were backed up with regular ads, competitions and

run-ons. ‘It’s crucial to extend the dialogue,’ adds Marks.

‘Advertorials and advertising do different jobs, but they complement

each other.’

Sky promotions manager Nicole Elias says there is no typical working

relationship when it comes to devising advertorials. ‘Ad agencies are

becoming more involved,’ she says, ‘and sometimes PR is bypassed

altogether, but then again it can step in once a campaign is booked. And

there are good and bad times with PR agencies, too - some cause enormous

problems, such as refusing to release work to the client until they feel

it is perfect. That can waste a lot of time.’

‘I’d say it’s still a PR domain, but our business base is shifting,’

says Claudette Laws, account manager, advertorials and sponsorship at

IPC. ‘In 1994, 13% of advertorials were client-direct, 44% through PR

and 43% through ad agencies. Last year, 7% came from clients, 33% from

PR and 59% from ad agencies.’

There’s an appealing risk-free element to advertorials. Properly done,

they can boldly send a brand where it has never gone before - and

without the fall-out which might alienate its core market. Would you

expect to find Reebok ads in Choice, for example?

In June last year, the company was there when PR Cohn & Wolfe handled an

advertorial pushing its outdoor walking boots to health-conscious over-

50s. In 20 years, what are the odds of on advertorial featuring Ryan

Giggs’s ten top tips for a healthy retirement?


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