MIAMI — Sponsored content, advertorial, special section, native advertising: Whatever you want to label it, it’s not a new idea.
Members of the Marine Marketers of America were joined by members of the marine industry, publishers and members of the press last Thursday at the MMA membership meeting at the Miami International Boat Show to discuss the future of marine publishing and the increasingly blurred lines between editorial content and advertising.
“As a publisher, I have nothing if I don’t have integrity,” Cruising World and Sailing World group publisher Sally Helme said of the need to clearly identify advertorials as advertising content. “There is no point in trying to fool your readers. Don’t insult your readers by putting something out there that’s not authentic.”
The discussion, titled “Marine Publishing: New Methods to Market Your Message,” was moderated by MMA vice president Michael Sciulla and was led by a panel of five distinguished experts in the marine publishing field.
After a welcome from MMA president Wanda Kenton Smith, MMA vice president Helme, along with MMA secretary and treasurer Cindy Pechous, presented the 2014 Neptune Awards. Meeting sponsor John Giglio of Freedom Boat Club gave a short presentation about the future of Freedom boat clubs and extended a $10,000 incentive for any successful franchise purchase referral.
MMA vice president Michael Sciulla opened the publishing forum by asking whether editorial content is still clearly defined from advertising, and in the case of editorial content written either by or for advertisers, whether the system works for readers, sponsors and publications.
Panel member David Pilvelait of Home Port Marine expressed his concern as a public relations representative that there is limited editorial space for new products developed by smaller companies that have a limited marketing budget. Pilvelait said he believes these companies cannot get new products reviewed in editorial pages without buying ads.
“This is an evolving marketplace,” said Duncan McIntosh, publisher of Sea Magazine, Editor & Publisher, The Log, and Boating World. The names and labels change and the way we distinguish ads from editorial continues to change, he said. Much of the medium is now digital, he said, and although different publishers scale content, or mark the content, in a range of different ways, he believes editorial content and advertising content are compatible platforms.
“It comes down to quality,” he said. “If content (whether it is editorial or advertising) is relevant, entertaining and humorous, it will work.”
Jim Rhodes of Rhodes Communications said he believes that the mixing of editorial and advertising content has been around for a long time and that there is an obligation on both sides to be authentic. The publisher’s biggest asset is the loyalty of the reader, he said.
“If you have the loyalty of the reader, the advertising will follow,” Rhodes said. “A publisher cheapens content and risks losing readers by printing unlabeled advertorial content. But if it’s clearly labeled, I think it’s fine.”
Shawn Bean, editorial director of Bonnier Corp.’s Active Interest Network, pointed out that in newer social media, the lines are even murkier. Content posted on Facebook or Twitter can’t be marked, he said.
“We can’t put a name on a YouTube video. We can’t mark it as edit or ad. This continues to evolve right in front of our eyes,” Bean said. “Trust is the epicenter. I’m not exactly sure where we’re headed, but we have to figure it out.”
Audience members argued that the editors, writers and publishers had the obligation to fact-check the content of native advertising, but Helme disagreed and said it behooves advertises to tell the truth. “We need to be honest and we need to be transparent,” she said.
Formed in 2007, Marine Marketers of America is an association of marketing professionals who specialize in publicizing, promoting, showing, advertising and selling the products, services and causes known collectively as the boating industry.
It provides members with professional development opportunities and sponsors the annual Neptune Awards, which recognize outstanding achievement in marine advertising, public relations and promotions. MMA publishes a weekly e-newsletter, The Voice.