WHY ARE EDITORIAL SUCH ARSEHOLES? Just how bad can relations between the editorial and advertising departments get? Paul Simpson sets aside his grudges to bridge the great divide

Journalists, eh? They take 500 words to get to the point, turn all jobsworth when the advertising department asks them for the smallest favour (when they’ll do far worse for a free lunch) and behave like Booker Prize winners, even though they only exist to provide facing matter for you to sell against.

Journalists, eh? They take 500 words to get to the point, turn all

jobsworth when the advertising department asks them for the smallest

favour (when they’ll do far worse for a free lunch) and behave like

Booker Prize winners, even though they only exist to provide facing

matter for you to sell against.

I’m joking, of course. That’s not how media sales people really feel

about their colleagues in the editorial department - or is it?

The ad manager of one specialist consumer magazine (who, like many

people invited to comment, would only talk off the record) says: ’It’s

not as antagonistic as it was. Both sides take a more holistic approach.

And editorial have had their backsides kicked so often that we don’t

need to make the same request four times before we have a showdown in

front of the publisher.’

Joanne O’Hara, advertising director of Gruner & Jahr UK, says: ’The

relationship between the two departments should, ideally, be

consultative. You don’t want an editor who just says no all the time,

nor do you want someone who always says yes. As a department,

advertising can sometimes push too hard and if the editor isn’t

protecting the product, you can undermine the integrity of everything

you’re selling.’

Editorial and advertising are divided by their mutual dependency and

reared on grotesque stereotypes about how the other half works. Many ad

sales executives, after a few bevvies, will confide they could write

’that stuff’ far better than the talentless hacks employed on the floor


On the other hand, the third most often heard question on the editorial

floor is ’Why don’t they sell more ads?’ (The first two are ’Is it

lunchtime yet?’ and ’What does the publisher actually do?’.)

Isobel McKenzie-Price, now editor-in-chief of IPC Southbank’s home

magazines, recalls: ’When I started out, you were encouraged to avoid

the ad department on pain of death. If you wanted to have a drink with

them, you had to sneak out the back way. In those days, the cliche was

that ad people were those who’d failed to make it into editorial. But

the other cliche is that advertising makes the money and editorial

spends it. I’ve heard that from every manager at every company I’ve ever

worked for.’

To the tyro, both departments seem oddly similar. They are both

populated by twentysomething types who motivate themselves with

adrenaline, caffeine, gossip and alcohol. They are both typically run by

people with the interpersonal skills of Saddam Hussein. So isn’t there

more to unite us than to divide us?

That might be true, if editorial staff were, um, how can I put this -

normal? Here’s a typical example of the perversity of the breed. It’s

Thursday afternoon and the ad manager gets a stinging e-mail from the

editor of the women’s monthly he works on. It contains a litany of

offences the ad department has committed. Next morning, three sales

staff are sent down to the editor’s office to do some serious

grovelling. But before they can prostrate themselves, the editor looks

up and says: ’Oh, don’t worry about that. I was just a bit lonely.’

The women’s magazine market, particularly, employs a disproportionate

number of female journalists who appear to be auditioning for Ab


’One day they will tell you you’re so lovely you ought to be in the

magazine,’ says one female ad manager, ’and the next, they’ll tell you

they can’t give you that right-hand page because - and I quote - ’I just

don’t feel like it’.’

Not all editors are as predictably unhelpful. ’There are some editors

who are more effective at selling advertising than the advertising

manager,’ says Simon Taylor, chairman of Haymarket Magazines. ’In the

specialist press, an editor who’s been around the industry can often get

appointments with clients who would never see a young ad manager. That

can be very useful - although, if taken too far, it can destroy the

industry’s respect for the magazine.’

His view is echoed by O’Hara, who says: ’The home magazine market has

attracted a few editors who like to take your clients out to lunch, do a

deal and leave you to pick up the pieces.’

Editors can be powerful advocates of the brand, especially in a sector

where there are a lot of direct clients. ’That’s a healthy change,’ says

McKenzie-Price, ’but sometimes it can go too far. As an editor, if

you’re not careful you can end up feeling like you’re the newest member

of the sales team.’

In national newspapers, editorial and advertising departments are almost

separate worlds. Although the alliance between former Guardian editor,

Peter Preston, and the advertising director, Caroline Marland, showed

that, at the top, they can unite profitably. (Without its revenue from

recruitment advertising, there would be no G2 section).

In regional newspapers and consumer magazines, the two form an uneasy

alliance. Ted Glynn, commercial director at Northcliffe Newspapers, says

there has been a shift. ’The anorak-wearing defender of truth and the

female ad manager with dyed blond hair and black roots are a distant


There are still daily confrontations of the ’you’ve got that space and I

want it’ variety, but in the last five years there’s been a growing

rapport between editors with passion and advertising managers with


An editor on a loss-making publication appreciates the need for revenue

- and the ad manager with a crappy circulation appreciates a good


Among magazine publishers, the balance of power varies. At Emap Elan,

the advertising department is renowned for getting its own way. At

Dennis, editorial and advertising (according to two ex-ad managers) work

in near perfect harmony. Meanwhile at Conde Nast and the National

Magazine Company, the editor is officially king. At IPC, where both

departments apparently work in an atmosphere of intrigue seldom seen

since the Ottoman empire, the ad department is, says one editor, ’kept

in the closet. They sort of whisper ’it’s the advertising department who

make the money’.’

In the final analysis, as O’Hara suggests, consultation is the key. As a

former editor, I can still remember my horror when the advertising

director returned from lunch to joyfully inform me that he had ’sold the

front cover’. When challenged, he assured everyone that it was a done


Thankfully, it was undone by the publishing director.

Conversely, O’Hara says: ’The one thing that editors do, which really

drives ad managers wild, is agree to something and then go back on their


These days, most editors realise that many of the things that they want

to do editorially won’t happen if the ad department can’t find a


But attitudes among the rank and file take longer to change. For many

editorial staff, complaining is a powerful motivational tool - and the

obvious target is the advertising department.


1 Find your grumpiest, most cynical, member of staff and send them into

the editorial department as often as possible. Hacks are always

cheerfully refreshed to find an ad person who is as curmudgeonly as


2 Put it in writing. Writing memos is a tedious and time consuming

business, but it’s far less tedious than the argument you’ll have when

both sides misinterpret their verbal agreements.

3 Avoid the Chinese water torture approach to flatplans. Nothing

irritates an editorial department more than a constant drip of

escalating demands for special positions, right-hand pages, strip ads


4 Know your subject. This is the easiest way to impress editorial staff.

But don’t let on that you know more about it than they do.

5 Do whatever it takes to get your job done. The cardinal rule on one

car mag’s flatplan was: ’Never ever put an ad spread into a feature.’

But a key advertiser wanted just that position. So the ad manager sent

his most attractive female employee to raise the matter with the

production editor. He inserted the ad spread without quibbling.

6 Ask for their ideas. Most journalists think that selling is just below

falling off a log on their list of most difficult jobs, so they’ll have

plenty of suggestions. Some, though, will ask: ’Do you want me to do

your job?’ The correct response is to smile and to focus on three,

simple words: revenge, served, cold.

7 Advertorials should be handled with the kind of caution with which

porcupines are reputed to have sex. Of 13 editors interviewed for this

article, nine said their most recent barney with the ad department had

been about advertorials.

8 Flattery will get you almost anywhere. Bear in mind that most

journalists suffer from that rare combination of a massive ego and

raging paranoia.

9 Don’t take it personally. No matter how badly editorial staff treat

you, never forget that they will treat each other even worse.

10 Don’t sell an ad to the Scientologists. If in doubt about the content

of an ad, ask. That way you avoid those meetings where the editor bangs

the table and says: ’What on earth made you think I would want that kind

of thing in my magazine?’

And how to piss them off

We’re offering the first 100 respondents a free glossy poster version of

this feature to stick on the office wall. To get yours, e-mail

cheryl.woods@ haynet.com - pronto!


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