New York – Have you noticed lately that discussions about increased editorial staff involvement in marketing activity reflect agreement on teamwork rather than the two-party church and state wall? Or is this allegedly new relationship more imaginary than real?

Seeking clarification of this trend, I posted a discussion on several LinkedIn group sites, including ASBPE’s and my own group: Editorial Solutions Performance Insider. The discussion included a four-question poll:

  1. Has the new Church & State relationship, if it exists, successfully flourished in a teamwork atmosphere or is integrity being further undermined?
  2. Does your organization have a separate sponsored content department staffed by former editors? If not, who creates native advertising, content marketing or other sponsored section material?
  3. If you are more involved now in marketing activity, what is the most common editorial ethics dilemma arising?
  4. Has editorial quality been slipping because of your marketing responsibilities? If so, how have you attempted to remedy that problem?

Reformulated church and state practices pose an interesting problem for me as chairman of ASBPE’s Ethics Committee. When I assumed this post four years ago, our code of ethics reflected a caution about editors being involved in marketing affairs. When we recently revised our code, we loosened the restrictions, allowing for senior editors to suggest strategy to ensure that the marketing connect did not interfere with editorial prerogatives and make sure clients were following the guides properly.  So what is our next step when we consider future code revisions?

My poll is still in progress. But an in-depth response from industry publishing veteran Geoffrey Giordano is worth sharing now. Currently handling projects for the Society of Plastics Engineers, Giordano’s background includes a previous six-year stay as director of communications at the Laser Institute of America, where he rose from contributing writer to director of communications.

Excerpts from his comments follow.

Are editors marketing veterans?

Giordano: While I find it unfortunate that discussions like this, or ‘print vs. digital’ discussions, are so often predicated on an adversarial approach, finding overlap and commonality is more useful. From the journalists’ side, content-creation – which is what journalists have been doing for decades before it was given a more civilian name – has been about “marketing” in a sense.

Copy editors and their supervisors “sell” a story and sell an organization’s credibility with finely tuned headlines and copy. So selling products or services with content – the “inbound marketing” (IM) concept – is essentially a journalist’s natural work. IM is, essentially, community journalism: creating engagement with meaningful, cogent, well-crafted pieces and information packages.

Speaking from the experience of one who dwelled in high-volume newsrooms for two decades, we editors were becoming more savvy in dealing with the sales and marketing crews – often providing or attempting to provide necessary counterbalance to ill-conceived material from those not trained or experienced in the 24/7/365 execution of superior content.

Speaking to question No. four in your poll, editorial quality is in danger of slipping vis-à-vis marketing responsibilities  simply because true editors often aren’t empowered as they should be – at least in smaller organizations.

Who is the better content strategist? A marketing person with little or no journalistic training, ethic or sense of standards? A freshly minted “user experience” guru in the making? Or a journalist who has sacrificed mightily to meet ungodly deadlines while executing superior content, planning daily, weekly, monthly and annual coverage and conducting – even per-edition – post-mortems?

Editorial sanctity is tough sell

One publisher with whom I worked featured an editorial-driven custom publishing arm. But struggling to sell others on the concept of editorial sanctity for the sake of superior content proved a never-ending challenge. Of course, editors are used to that; look at the calls, e-mails and Tweets that pour in to second guess the minutiae of editorial coverage.

Regarding senior editors involvement in marketing strategy, I am all for it. Experienced editorial guidance is vital to marketing performance. In fact, I see too many marketing chiefs trying to drive editorial material – and failing miserably because they don’t have the depth of understanding of media and what it means to really advocate for customers or sell a message. They want to “sell sell sell,” all right – often with weak material that is so blatantly commercial it turns people off.

Here’s a recent B2B exchange I had with a prospective employer. During a second interview for this informal, all-telecommuting group, the sales chief talked about how successful the company  had been in selling full-scale editorial and messaging packages to clients. As the discussion wore on, the sales chief explained that he tells clients, “When you talk to him (the editor), it’s free; when you talk to me (the sales chief) it costs you.”

Therein is a far greater church vs. state issue worth further exploration, as is my position that editors create the work that drives sales but don’t share commissions. I see more places – including the company I turned down for its somewhat disdainful attitude to a journalist’s worth – where offering traffic and sales bonuses to editors should be considered.

(Editor’s note: Giordano is reachable via geoffgionj@gmail.com. Ethics Updates readers wishing to submit a comment to me for future publication can reply to ethics@asbpe.org.)