The Difference Between Editorial and Advertising Content & Why You Need to Know
By: Jennine Jacob

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Yesterday’s post 5 Reasons to Walk Away from a Blog Sponsorship opened up a few questions about when a blogger should be paid for their work. Bloggers should be paid for their work, but not every email from a brand is asking a blogger to work for them. Most emails from brands are press releases and pitches for coverage which are sent in hopes for editorial coverage.

Church & State

The traditional media has what they metaphorically call the division between advertising and editorial content “Church and State” as opposed to the literal division of the Constitutional “Church and State.” In publishing, advertising and editorial content are to be kept separate at all times in order to maintain credibility.  Media corporations have sales teams, PR teams and editors, writers and photographers, all doing their separate jobs, and the lines are clearer than they are in the digital world.

These days the business model of traditional publishing is broken. “Church and State” doesn’t work anymore. With native advertising on the rise, branded content has blurred the lines between editorial and advertising, but that doesn’t mean that advertising content is any less advertising or vice versa.

One of the biggest complaints from the old world is that “bloggers” don’t understand the difference between advertising and editorial content.

One of the biggest complaints from the old world is that “bloggers” don’t understand the difference between advertising and editorial content. I don’t think it’s because bloggers can’t understand the difference, it’s just that there are no set standards aside from the FTC Guidelines,  it’s not readily available, and bloggers learn as they go. No one gives you a pamphlet of blogging rules when you start your blog. In the beginning, it’s not easy to tell if a request from a PR to post about their sample sale is a editorial request for coverage, or if a brand is asking for participation in a marketing campaign.

Why do we need to know the difference between advertising and editorial content?

It’s important to be clear about the difference between advertising and editorial for two reasons:

  • If you are not clear what the difference between advertising and editorial, your readers will not be either. This can cause major problems for your credibility and your blog down the road.
  • Without acknowledging the difference between the two types of content, you run the risk of unnecessarily damaging relationships with brands by appearing unprofessional. Brands often complain that bloggers ask for money for what traditional media does for free. Being clear about what your services are, and what your editorial content is will help keep the conversation open to evolution.

How do you tell the difference?

What is “editorial” content?

“Editorials” technically refer to opinion articles in newspapers. Since a vast majority of blogging falls into the “opinion” category, “editorial blog content” has come to mean posts that the blogger has posted out of genuine interest, and unpaid. If you see an awesome pair of shoes and want to share it with your readers by posting on your blog or social media, that is editorial content. If you want to talk about your experience going shopping for the first time, again editorial content.

If you get tipped off that your favorite designer is having a 80% off sale and you want to share that with your readers, that is editorial content.

What does an editorial pitch look like?

When a PR or brand representative sends an email pitch with the following, they are hoping for editorial coverage:

  • Press release
  • Lookbook
  • Product Images
  • An invite to a sale or event
  • Possibly products for review (though this can get into a grey area)
  • Contests

Some bloggers like to look at these emails like spam.  They are not technically spam especially if they are relevant pitches to your blog. On Eat, Sleep, Denim, I welcome lookbooks and press releases so I can get the scoop on what’s about to hit the stores. On the other hand, pitches to post a lookbook on IFB is a total nuisance. If a PR has a history of emailing irrelevant pitches, you can always opt out, they’re usually respectful.

What is “advertising” content?

Advertising content is content that you have been paid to produce. This is usually negotiated in advance. The brand will have certain parameters and goals with your post and you will probably have negotiated a package with services:

  • Writing a post with specific links (sometimes tracked links)
  • Publishing the post on a specified date
  • Using specified language from the brand in your post
  • Giving the brand final approval for post publishing
  • Branded distribution of content on social media channels (on Tagged Facebook, branded hashtag on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram)
  • Banner ads promoting brand on site

The list goes on. If a brand has specific branding to be included in your post, then that is indeed advertising content.

What does an opportunity for advertising content look like?

Usually if a brand emails with an “opportunity” or asks for your media kit and for your promotional services, this is a request for producing advertising content. They will use words like, “pricing,” “budget,” “rates,” in their emails. I usually like to get on the phone to discuss what their needs are an how I can help. More often than not, business opportunities come from existing relationships, or the brand is very clear in the beginning they are willing to pay.

Most of the time, a brand is not intentionally trying to take advantage of a blogger. Brands are as clueless as to how things work as bloggers are. You may be getting an email from someone who just doesn’t understand what they are asking for. So don’t get mad right away, try to educate them. There are times however when a brand asks for something to be done for free that should be paid work. If they are asking you to perform tasks that you are uncomfortable with, thank them for getting in touch and walk away.

 

[Image credit: Shutterstock.com]

 

Comments

  1. Avatar of Z
    Z says:

    I think this is all really important to know. After trying it out, I decided that I would stop creating advertising content, and just stick to editorial content as a way of building relations with brands that I appreciate. It has made the blogging experience much more enjoyable as a whole, and more personal too.
    That’s only from the point of view of someone who isn’t trying to make money from blogging, though

    Z

  2. Avatar of Pinksole
    Pinksole says:

    Great article, lots of useful info. The editorial content from brands make me uncomfortable when it’s a service or product that I’ve never used. One of my goals with my blog is to create a community doesn’t matter how small, I want my readers to feel like they can trust me and whatever product/service that I recommend because I’ve actually tried it. Maybe I’m naive, but I usually try not to recommend products based on an email a PR company sends me. I also never accept products that I would never consider buying in the first place.
    I am still learning this blogging thing and I’m sure I’ll make plenty of mistakes, but how to handle talking PR people when you don’t want to just post whatever they pitch you? As a blog reader for many years I know that there’s certain posts that I don’t particularly enjoy and I’m trying not to make those mistakes.
    Rachelle

  3. I agree with most of your points except where you say that “invite to a sale” and “contest” are editorial. More and more brands act like they are inviting you to check out a sale or a contest, but always throw in the usual “We’d love for you to share this with your readers.” If you want me to promote your sale or contest, then that is advertising.

    • Avatar of Jennine Jacob

      Hmm… I don’t think it would be appropriate to ask a brand to get paid to attend an event and cover it. That’s pretty much frowned upon both by brands and bloggers. As for the contest, it depends on the context, sometimes you can use contests to promote your own blog or to do for your readers as something fun. If the brand is pretty flexible with you, ie, not asking for a specific date or specific links in the contest, then it’s not a paid gig. Hope that helps!

  4. Kylie says:

    It’s funny you should write this… I recently updated my contact page to outline where I stand on everything http://www.memoirmode.com/contact/ I don’t know if its a bit much, but I have had less awkward emails of late. PR will ‘sometimes’ try to push advertising content in exchange for product… Which is irritating. For example they will try and dictate the post, ask for changes, link placements etc. I think this is what might be annoying the mainstream media too, a large percentage of bloggers will do advertising posts for practically nothing.

    • Avatar of Jennine Jacob

      Having a policy on your about page is a great way to curb the awkwardness! Especially since you can always refer back to it, if a potential partner makes a request you are uncomfortable with.

  5. Avatar of Aimee
    Aimee says:

    Very helpful! I’m new to the blogging world and brand emails always confuse me.

  6. Great article. This should help clear the blurred line between the two (editorial and advertising). My blog is a small blog but has I evolve I realize that my content have been more on the editorial side, and as a result my blog stats and opportunities have been taking a positive turn.

  7. Katarina says:

    I absolutely agree! It is very important for you as a blogger to know the difference and to be completely transparent with your readers on sponsored posts or advertorial content. We just spoke about this topic on the blogger conference panel where guests were magazine editors and bloggers, it was a rather heated discussion ;)

    La Kat

  8. Avatar of Cora Harrington

    Such a good post! Just having these differences in mind and being able to express them to a brand that’s interested in working with you is really important to your professionalism (and your sanity!) as a blogger.

  9. Avatar of debi c
    debi c says:

    this was a necessary article! i am happy to know that i already knew most of it. but i, like several other bloggers look upon those press release and lookbook things as annoying and shameless pr tactics. i will look into them closely from now on. if they are relevant to the blog i will consider posting it.

  10. Donna says:

    Great post! Thank you! I took a Pr writing class in college and several writing classes, so I understand that PR people are just doing their jobs. But at the same time, we have done work to get an audience, and if we are writing the post, that’s also work. It’s really good to know what is considered information/opinion writing, and what should be paid work. Thanks again. It’s a whole new world for marketing and PR.
    Donna
    http://Www.prettysparklythings.blogspot.com

  11. There are two questions that all writers should ask if they are not sure…

    1. Am I getting paid to write this? If the answer is yes – then it’s advertising.

    2. Can I write what I want? If the answer is no – then it’s advertising.

    The rest is all about justifying why you should accept this gift, trip, lunch, drink – from someone who would like to reach your followers. Tell yourself you can be objective if you want…. then go back and read your piece a couple of months after you published it and be brutally honest with yourself.

    @adventcom

    • Avatar of Jennine Jacob

      Yes, that is true!

      This post was more about identifying the intentions from the brand, to see what was fair for charging and what is standard to be done for free. The lines are blurry, any content can be advertising if it’s paid for.

  12. Avatar of Vanessa Almeida

    Great post!
    Now I can understand the important difference of them both.
    Thanks!
    Vanny.

  13. Avatar of Laura Shepard

    I’m curious if anyone can offer an advice as how to establish rates for these sort of things… I am very new to blogging and have recently been approached by companies asking me to do various things such as write a post on their product or to use their new app/website for a week, that kind of thing… when they ask me my rate I have NO idea what to say because I don’t have one! Is there any sort of standard rate people follow?

    Thanks!

    xxLaura
    http://www.laviencouleur.com

    • Bike Pretty says:

      I have a similar question to Laura’s!

      I get so many requests to review products. It’s really flattering, but it is so much work. Is it unethical to charge? Or is there some other way to go about it like, buy this ad space and I’ll review your product (with integrity, of course)?

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    I appreciate your post ….

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