Should an editor ever be involved in advertorials?

The word advertorial evokes mixed feelings among the international journalism community. Advertisers paying to publish their own print stories can be a good source of revenue, but doesn’t necessarily sit right with all editorial ethics.

Don Tepper is an editor at the American Physical Therapy Association’s magazine PT in Motion. He has not been asked to write advertorials and said he would feel extremely uncomfortable doing so.

“We maintain a clear separation between editorial and advertising,” he said. “While we will run articles that may be ‘advertiser-friendly,’ we don’t compromise our editorial quality or standards.”

To Tepper, publishing advertorials is a conflict of interest and doesn’t deliver the same quality as other articles.

“It’s not just that they seem to be uniformly poorly written, but it’s the knowledge that the copy is pretending to be an article of some sort, when all it really is, is advertising,” he said. “I can’t recall reading an advertorial that provided the same quality of content as an actual article.”

A number of years ago, PT in Motion experimented with a buyer’s guide. Companies that advertised in the magazine or otherwise financially supported the association, such as buying booth exhibit, received a listing and the opportunity to submit a short  description.

“They were almost always horribly written, by their sales people, of course,” Tepper said.

Many companies didn’t even submit the description and PT in Motion discontinued the guide. Instead, the magazine devotes its August issue to editorial topics that appeal to advertisers.

“We’re trying to maintain that issue as one specifically designed to attract advertisers,” Tepper said. “Still, the articles are ‘real’ — written by the magazine staff or freelancers, edited and vetted internally and not subject to advertiser influence.”

False claims made in advertorials also concern Tepper. Working for a healthcare magazine, he sees how hyperbole can endanger lives.

Tepper is confident his publisher and other departments support his aversion to advertorials. He also doesn’t feel that not offering advertorials hurts advertiser relationships or inhibits potential revenue.

“Our association offers advertisers dozens of different opportunities to get their messages out to our members,” he said. “But our members have to know what’s factual and peer-reviewed, versus what’s advertiser-driven. I doubt many, if any, advertisers feel deprived because they don’t have yet another outlet into which they can put their money.”

But not every editor feels the same. Victoria Clark, senior editor at The O&P EDGE and Amplitude magazines published in the United States doesn’t see advertorials as a conflict of interest. Her company rarely sees advertorials but the ones it does publish are labeled as such without an in-house writer’s byline. They look distinctly different from editorial copy.

“I view them as a type of advertising — just an especially wordy ad,” she said.

However, her company does offer custom publishing services to small businesses needing marketing products. These clients can then deliver these eight to 12-page newsletters to their customers.

“It is useful in continuing to find value in our content and helps small businesses create a marketing device without having to start from scratch,” Clark said.

This work is folded into a specific editor’s job. Clark thinks this works well because outsourcing the work to freelancers may cut into profits too much to make the service viable.

Still, Clark said some of these projects have proven to be more time consuming than anticipated, in spite of trying to set up clear expectations with the client.

“As small businesses, our clients often haven’t anticipated who will lead the project on their end or who can make decisions once the project is underway,” she said.

But overall Clark thinks this service is a good choice for trade publications that can swing it.

“I think trade publications with the appropriate resources to market and produce the product would see the same benefit of continuing to use valuable content in a different way,” she said.

Laura Barnes, editor of PCR out of the United Kingdom, is involved with some advertorials and said it all comes down to communication.

“It really does depend on how ‘advertorial’ is communicated to the client via the sales teams as to how open they are to collaborating.”


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