Spotlight On: The Financial Times’s Ad Tie-up - Is the FT sacrificing editorial integrity for higher revenue?

Alasdair Reid investigates the influence advertisers have in shaping the media.

Alasdair Reid investigates the influence advertisers have in

shaping the media.



The Financial Times isn’t exactly renowned for its sports coverage

Football-club flotations, yes; the latest on Gazza’s groin strain,

no.



The best you would expect is a featurette on something aspirational yet

slightly wacky, like croquet, in Saturday’s Weekend section.



For planners at Western International Media, this was slightly

unfortunate.



The FT is ideal for the new Vauxhall Omega campaign. The numbers stack

up. The FT hits the target market perfectly. Just one snag - the new

campaign is designed to run in sports editorial.



It’s at this point that planners are faced with a stark choice - either

forget all these ideas about their ’upstream’ involvement in the

communications process, ignore the creative brief and book the FT; or

they can attempt to use a carefully crafted combination of other titles

to deliver a portmanteau audience profile similar to the FT’s.



Western International Media, of course, did neither. Instead, it thought

it might be a nice idea to re-engineer the newspaper, moulding the FT in

its - or rather Vauxhall’s - image. The plans seems to have worked out

rather well. From Friday 7 March, the FT will have a two-page sports

section. Vauxhall will advertise in it (Campaign, last week).



Gazza’s groin goes pink? Not at all, Michael Murphy, the FT’s UK sales

director, insists. Coverage will be classy. And he disputes the

suggestion that the sports section was Western’s idea. ’We were working

on a sports section for a while,’ he states. ’It was a coincidence that

they approached us just when we were ready to go ahead.’



Perhaps - but a rather unfortunate coincidence, at best. Co-operation

between advertising and editorial has become commonplace over the past

couple of years but doesn’t this go too far?



The FT has been involved in this sort of thing before. In 1995 it

created Midweek Money, a personal finance section, so that National

Savings could set up its ’virtual shop’ permanent adsite there. Should

media owners take their lead from advertisers in this way?



Murphy maintains that ’the brand is sacrosanct’ at the FT. Mike

Smallwood, the managing director of Western International Media, agrees

that there is a line you should not cross - not surprisingly, though, he

says that the deal stays on the right side. ’This sort of thing works

when you are clearly not interfering with editorial integrity and when

there are shared benefits. Most importantly, readers must get something

they wouldn’t have had otherwise. And why shouldn’t the FT’s brand

values extend to sport?’



Tess Alps, the managing director of Drum PHD, has masterminded several

ad-ed tie-ups on TV - the latest was the Waterstone’s 100 Best Books

series of short films on Channel 4. She reckons that the FT-Omega deal

is a good idea, yet she too acknowledges the dangers. ’Just because you

can do something, it’s no reason to go ahead and do it. Often, our job

is telling advertisers just that. No-one will thank an advertiser for

making their newspaper or TV channel worse, will they?’ she says.



But Tony Manwaring, managing director of Initiative Media, believes

these days the temptations are getting too great. ’With an increasingly

competitive market, considerations of editorial integrity will seem less

and less important to media owners,’ he argues.



Manwaring insists that if you undermine the relationship between

consumers and the media, you devalue all commercial communications

’Advertisers are going to push and try their luck. Maybe we’d all have

tried to do what Vauxhall has done. The point is, it’s up to us to push

and media owners to say no. However, I think this FT thing is

disappointing. The FT is a barometer for the rest of the industry. This

sends the wrong message to the market.’



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