|As publications continue to fight for ever-dwindling advertising dollars in this economy, more magazines and newspapers have been turning to advertorials—ads that imitate editorial format —to generate money. Companies that have grown weary of sending out often-ignored press releases see advertorials as a way to pay for publicity and reach their audience. And for writers, this has opened up a wonderful opportunity to make some extra dollars.|
Often called the “infomercials” of the print world, advertorials make up a fast-growing segment of the freelance-writing industry. Specifically, an advertorial is “an advertisement written in the form of an objective opinion editorial, and presented in a printed publication—usually designed to look like a legitimate and independent news story,” according to Wikipedia. In fact, if done well, an advertorial looks eerily similar to a news or feature story. Advertorials are designed to fit in seamlessly with the editorial content of a magazine or newspaper. “A good advertorial will keep the reader’s eye engaged throughout the entire publication,” says Orion Ray-Jones, U.S. editorial director at Ink Publishing, which produces in-flight magazines such as Hemispheres, MyMidwest and Go.
“Advertorials deliver content in a way that gives valuable information to the reader, but positions the content to align with an advertiser’s campaign objectives,” adds Margo Bock, national sales director at Vancouver Magazine. “For example, if a client is coming out with a new laundry detergent that is more environmentally friendly, the advertorial would talk about reduced packaging, how phosphates affect the environment, and so on. This information is still true and valuable, but puts the reader in a better frame of mind to be more accepting of a product that reinforces the information they have just read.”Writing for both clients and readers
I began writing advertorials more than 10 years ago, when I noticed a sales supplement in a local parenting magazine. I had just begun freelance writing, and I thought that the friendly copy included in the supplement fit my writing style perfectly. As with any other publication, I searched for the masthead, which listed not the name of the editor, but an advertorial coordinator.
“It’s essential for the writer to know whom to contact,” says Bock, who regularly hires freelance writers for advertorial assignments. “The problem is that it’s different in every company. For some, it might be the sales director, but for a company like ours, it’s the promotions manager.” Luckily, a quick e-mail to an executive in the publication’s advertising department will lead you in the right direction. Over the years, I have written on everything from trends in children’s birthday parties to the benefits of Chicago’s independent school system. While I approached each story as I would my other writing jobs, I realized that the rules of advertorial writing were different.
“[Your] writing needs to cater to both the readership of the magazine and the client,” Ray-Jones says. Adds Bock: “A good advertorial writer would be able to clearly understand a client’s campaign message and objectives, and be able to understand the magazine’s reader. Understanding the message and the recipient is key to writing the information in a way that appeals to the reader and encourages them to act on the advertiser’s message.”Alena Murguia, advertorial coordinator at Chicago Parent, explains, “We look for an advertorial writer who can not only keep the advertiser happy but also write an interesting story for the parents who read our publication. Ultimately, our readers are looking for information, and they don’t care if they have to read through editorial or advertorial copy to get it.”
Factors to consider
Before taking an advertorial assignment, writers must weigh both the positives and negatives of this work, since it’s not for everyone. “A hard newspaper journalist might not be the best person for the job,” Ray-Jones says. “Advertorials are all about painting companies in the most positive light possible.”
While some publications hire freelance writers for their advertorial copy, they do not promise a byline. Also, some magazines have guidelines preventing advertorial writers from writing editorial copy for the publication at the same time. “While we do use freelance writers for our advertorial work, we typically don’t use them for editorial as well, as it is a different writing style and not all writers can switch back and forth,” Bock says.Writers should factor in the time it takes for interviews, research and rewrites to please the advertiser, Marguia adds. “I’ve had writers who needed to make 25 different phone calls for a 500-word piece,” she says. Though the workload for some advertorials can exceed the average news article, the pay is similar when working with a publication. However, companies that hire writers directly for advertorial copy usually pay more than a publication’s advertising department.
To get your foot in the door, start by contacting publications you’ve worked with to see if any advertorial assignments are available.
Or, start by pitching a feature article to a market you haven’t written for yet. “We tend to use writers who we have worked with before on editorial stories [for advertorial work],” Ray-Jones says. “We already know their writing style and have faith in their abilities. For our publications, I guess the best advice would be to study our magazines, learn how to refine pitches to meet our needs, and win some assignments.”Writers can also contact the publication’s advertising department with samples of previous advertorial copy.
How do you know if a publication runs advertorials? Publishers are careful to distinguish editorial and advertorial to keep from misleading the reader. Often, publications will include a special disclaimer stating that the copy is of an advertising or promotional nature. And though an average reader might glaze over a label or disclaimer copy, your keen eye will detect key phrases such as “advertisement,” “dedicated e-mail” or “advertising supplement” at the top of the page or message. So, as you page through a magazine or newspaper, look for these clues. “Writing an advertorial requires a lot of back and forth between a lot of parties, but I think, in the end, advertorials can work if [there is a] clear understanding of the goals and agreements for fair, honest coverage between the advertising and editorial staff and the client,” says Lynn Petrak, a long-time freelance advertorial writer in the Chicago area. “Publishers, especially today, have to walk an even tighter line between revenue and editorial coverage. The biggest challenge is to the writer and editor, who must try to devise copy that is factual yet not fawning.”
Advertorials are a win-win for everyone, Ray-Jones adds. “We can all make money when the advertorial is done correctly,” he says.