I had landed an interview with the chief executive of Argos - a bit
of a result for a junior hack at a regional business-to-business
Given that my average assignment consisted of writing advertorials for
jacket potato restaurants in Aylesbury, I was pretty excited about
having a crack at a ’proper’ feature.
Questions tucked away in my new Burtons suit, I was all set to leave
when the publisher (who doubled as the sales director) announced that he
was going to drive me to the Argos HQ in Milton Keynes.
It was the first time he had ever shown any interest in me - I was,
after all, filed in the cost column on the balance sheet (albeit for a
measly pounds 8,500) rather than in the sales column. But not wanting to
seem ungrateful, I accepted his offer.
En route I was given a lecture on ’getting value’ from every single
feature the company published. I wasn’t quite sure what he was
blathering on about until he came to his main point: ’So, if we are
going to make this feature worthwhile, we need to get Argos to advertise
against it. This is a perfect opportunity for you to speak to the man
with the purse strings.’
I threw my toys out of the pram, point blank refusing to even try to
sell space to the chief executive of one of Britain’s biggest retailers,
and made a mental note that I had to leave my job. The feature never
appeared, I left the company within a month, and it was wound up by
creditors soon after.
The main reason for the company’s failure was the absence of a division
between editorial and advertising, which meant that the titles lacked
any credibility - and consequently any loyal readers. To say ad response
rates were pathetic was an understatement. Failing to maintain the ad/ed
divide can be a huge mistake; it is vital for the long-term health of
But just as it is impossible to understand why some publishers cannot
see the need for metaphorical walls between the two departments, it is
also incredible that there is still so much bickering and even animosity
between editorial and advertising.
As our feature on editorial arseholes illustrates, hacks are often
guilty of behaving like precocious children, and it is hard to argue
with the conclusion that too many of our clan suffer from the
paradoxical problems of enormous egos and raging paranoia. Too many
people who are running little trade and consumer titles seem to think
they are Kelvin MacKenzie.
It would be nice to think that the culprits will be embarrassed if they
read Paul Simpson’s piece.
But sales people who fail to recognise the value of independent
editorial are equally at fault, and will cause their titles no end of
damage in the long term. Just ask my ex-boss.