Hey Bristol Life Magazine, it’s Aime. You don’t know me, but I’m not very happy with you today. I would like to kindly suggest that you have a little rethink of how you sell advertising opportunities to small creative business owners – because your current method stinks.
All the human names in this article have been changed to prevent personal identification.
It is business, and it is personal.
When you run a business, every decision, every success, every failure, every good day and every bad day is oh-so-very personal. We wish it wasn’t, but when we pour our time, energy and creativity into something, our emotions are intrinsically entwined with what we do and what we make.
And, unlike traditional employment, there are very few sources of validation to let us know when we’re ruddy crushing it or missing the mark.
This combination of emotional entwining, need for feedback plus a dash of all-too-common isolation can create vulnerabilities, and unfortunately these vulnerabilities are often exploited by sneaky sausages in pursuit of their own commercial interests.
Intro to ads vs editorial features
Any content published with the promise or receipt of payment is an advertisement by definition. Even those sponsored articles that look like a regular magazine spread are advertisements called advertorials, a pretty baller portmanteau of ‘advertisement’ and ‘editorial’. There is nothing wrong with advertising, it can totes be a part of a small business’ marketing activity.
But advertising is not the same as editorial features and coverage. Advertising is not journalism – in fact, many reputable publications report processes and guidelines that prevent their editorial content from being influenced by advertising budgets.
And this is why your audience is far more likely to trust and be influenced by editorial content than advertisements. After all, if you found two lists of the top 5 coffee shops in a city you’re about to visit, one being an editorial article by a local writer and the other being a list of paid ads – which would you be more inclined to believe?
Targeting vulnerabilities to sell those ads
This whole article centres around an ad sales tactic that specifically targets this vulnerability and hinges on the inexperience of many small business owners.
In short, it’s a form of bait and switch. Typically an advertising salesperson suggests their publication would like to feature a small business (suggestion editorial content), and when the small business responds, it’s revealed that this feature is actually ad space that costs hundreds of pounds.
It’s certainly not illegal, and it’s certainly not exclusive to Bristol Life Magazine and their publisher MediaClash. But I’d argue that it’s certainly not ethical.
This tactic can work really well, but it hinges on 4 things:
- Suggestion that the feature is editorial and not advertorial
- The business owner not knowing of a difference between editorial and advertorial content
- The business owner not knowing that this tactic of ad-selling is rife
- Not providing pricing information until someone is emotionally invested
And these four things all exploit those vulnerabilities I mentioned earlier – and are hella icky.
This all started with my friend Patricia*
“Oh my gosh, Bristol Life Magazine wants to write a feature about me and my business!”
This week I was chilling with business buddy Patricia when she let out a little whoop-whoop of joy over a Facebook message from someone at Bristol Life Magazine.
A local magazine wanted to feature her small business.
Patricia was proud, I was proud, we ate some cake and Patricia went home.
The Bristol creative business community is small
As Patricia went home, I went back to work, and by ‘work’ I meant Instagram – because I am a queen of procrastination.
My role involves managing websites and creating content for many small creative businesses, and I’m able to see their Facebook messages. I usually ignore the notifications, but then one caught my eye…
I work on the advertising here at Bristol Life and our upcoming issue on the 18th October is featuring a ‘Meet the Maker’ feature…
Oh my days, Bristol Life Magazine wants to feature Miriam too?
How lovely, two of my favourite makers – talented, wonderful ladies with great businesses – were going to be acknowledged in a recognisable local publication.
At least that’s what you wanted them to think, didn’t you, Bailey Nometal and Bristol Life Magazine. You lil tricky tricksters.
Miriam whoop-whooped, Aime ate some more cake, and ol’ Bailey pulled the classic bait and switch.
Calling you out, naming and shaming.
I noted at the top of this article that I changed the names of the individuals involved to protect their privacy. Strangers on the internet can be mean, and nobody wants to get into a drama over a crappy sales pitch from a freebie magazine.
Nobody apart from me, because I am sick of this pish. I am just so done with businesses using underhand, nasty tactics in pursuit of commercial betterment when it is just as easy to be kind, professional and respectful.
Bristol Life Magazine, your publisher, MediaClash, and others who do this time and time again – you don’t have to. But you do, and you should be ashamed. If you’re brazen enough to toy with people’s emotions in order to get a sale, I’m audacious enough to write about it.
The exchange between Bristol Life Magazine, Miriam and me.
If it’s not already obvious, I’m not one to shy away from confrontation. I spoke to Miriam who kindly allowed me to help craft some replies to Bailey, and share this exchange in the Studio Cotton blog.
I work on the advertising here at Bristol Life and our upcoming issue on the 18th October is featuring a ‘Meet the Maker’ feature.
The piece will bring together and showcase Bristol’s finest ‘makers’ from the backgrounds of pottery, textiles, arts and crafts and everything in between. Participants will have a quarter page Q&A to introduce the reader to you and your work, providing a great opportunity for exposure.
We’d love to have you involved – does it sound of interest?
Hi Bailey that sounds amazing! Yes please I’d love to be involved. X
Many thanks for getting back to me and I’m glad it’s of interest. We would send you set of questions and you would pick 3 or 4 to answer alongside a picture of you. As the piece is an advertising feature it would carry a small cost. A quarter page with us would normally be £348 + vat but we’re currently offering a feature price of £190 + vat. We’ve got some great people included already and we’d love to see you in it. Let me know if it’s of interest and if you have any more questions.
There are two ways we could react to this exchange, and they both suck.
1. We endure a lil gut-punch of disappointment. We got our hopes up and felt wonderful that someone wanted to write about the business we made – but nope, it’s another crappy sales pitch and you just want my money.
2. Oh ok, I didn’t realise you had to pay for these things but I guess you love my products so much I should really think about it.
Bailey and Bristol Life Magazine are after reaction number 2. They are after the people who feel flattered, who feel validated, and who don’t know that genuine PR doesn’t come with a price.
Sorry I didn’t realise it was an advertising feature that would carry a cost. I will have to think about it and get back to you.
Apologies for the confusion. Of course fel free to think about it – our artwork deadline in next Friday 4th Otober. We’d love to have you included.
It was at this point that I’d happen to speak to two more amazing Bristol business owners, Claudette and Persephone, who had also heard from Bailey and Bristol Life. Two more amazing women who I love and respect, who felt various levels of crappy because a magazine was trying to make money.
The Bristol creative business community is small, and we talk. We share ideas, we support each other. We talk about opportunities and we have each others backs – so you should probably stop playing this pish.
And we let Aime get involved when she’s on a mission for justice…
I believe the confusion arose as your message was intentionally misleading, suggesting Bristol Life would like to showcase ‘makers’ when in actuality, you would just like to make money from them.
As I’m sure you’re aware, the Bristol creative small business community is close and open, and I’m aware you’ve used this same disingenuous approach with many other talented businesses. If you would like to sell advertising space, that’s fine. There’s no need to hide the motive and cause ill feeling amongst your potential customers with an unnecessary bait-and-switch approach.
Apologies that you feel that way. Bristol Life is looking to showcase makers as this is an advertorial piece and key feature in this issue. As a free magazine we rely on advertising revenue.
We’ve got a number of people who are involved and are happy to pay the fee, appreciative of the opportunity the feature will give them. Apologies again that you felt mislead.
Kind regards, Bailey.
A non-apology. Non-apologies only serve to make one side feel better that they have dismissed a situation. Translation “ok ok, we are trying to make money and are fine manipulating people to achieve that goal”.
There’s no need to apologise for my feelings, they are not hurt. I would like to apologise though as it seems I wasn’t clear.
I understand the Bristol Life model, and know that you offer opportunities for paid advertisements. The publication also produces and shares content that is not paid for. The issue is that the opportunity was misrepresented.
Your message suggested the feature was editorial.
As small business owners, our work is very personal to us, and so to receive a message like this is uplifting and exciting – which I’m sure your sales department is very aware of.
You baited us with praise and validation, got the attention you wanted, then switched your message with a paid opportunity. The more experienced among us are aware of this sales tactic and will dismiss another wasted email exchange.
Some of those newer to entrepreneurship will feel flattered and guilted into booking a feature. Targeting individuals like this is legal, yes. It’s also immoral and cruel, and I’m sure that’s not the impression Bristol Life would like to give.
It’s also condescending. If you have an advertising opportunity – send us a professional email with a media pack. We can judge the ‘exposure’ Bristol Life is able to provide and make our own informed business decisions. I hope I’ve offered more clarity, and that Bristol Life takes onboard the feedback from Bristol’s small creative business community.
Bailey is yet to reply, and I doubt she will. Bailey is not fully to blame either – chances are she’s a low-paid intern working on commission with a sales script designed for maximum manipulation.
The key problems with the Bristol Life Magazine sales approach
Have I mentioned that it’s mean? Yes – because it’s mean. Unnecessarily so.
It also doesn’t make business sense to use this method. If it’s a legitimate marketing opportunity, it deserves a legitimate sales pitch. Bristol Life Magazine is selling themself short with an unconventional approach that, at best, feels ‘dodgy’.
As we mentioned in our last message to Bailey, it is condescending. We are small creative business owners – that’s a valid type of business and deserving of the same respect as a high-end or high street brand. Don’t send us Facebook messages riddled with typos from personal accounts featuring pics from your last drunken night out with the promise of ‘exposure’.
You want to sell stuff, that’s fine – so do we – we also want to take advantage of great marketing opportunities. Present the pitch effectively and stop playing games. It comes across like your brand thinks less of us – and certainly leaves us thinking less of you.
And you know what, it is insulting. We are not less deserving or less able to make informed business decisions. Bristol Life Magazine has a media pack, it has a defined circulation, demographics and proof points. Did you not think that information would help sell this opportunity? Eugh, mate – come on.
The Bristol creative business community is small, and we talk. We shared our negative experience with your sales pitch, and I’m sharing the experience with the curious people who are reading this blog post. Hey you, lovely reader, how do you feel about Bristol Life Magazine now?
Too much? It’s been a long week.
I have probably taken this more to heart than the situation deserved, but as I mentioned – I am sick of this pish. To Bristol Life Magazine, there is absolutely no reason to use this tactic to sell your advertising space, so please just stop being mean and making our days worse.
Treat us with a little decency, and approach small creative businesses in Bristol with thoughtful, considered advertising opportunities. We’d love to chat.
How to fix that first message from Bailey at Bristol Life Magazine
I hope you’re having a lovely week. I just want to introduce myself – I am, Bailey Nometal, a member of the advertising team at Bristol Life Magazine, and I’m working on a paid feature on Bristol makers. I’ve just come across your business, [business name] and love your work, especially the way you [insert lovely sentence].
We have an offer on a quarter page ad in this Makers feature at £190 + VAT (usually £348 + VAT), and I think [business name] would be a great fit. Between Bristol homes and businesses, we have a circulation of over 10,000 – all wonderful local readers who have the potential to support a brilliant Bristol business like yours.
I’ve attached a case study from one of the makers that appeared in recent similar feature, and there’s a link to our media pack at the bottom of this email with details on of circulation, demographics and success stories, as well as the details of our other advertising opportunities.
I would love to have your thoughts on this opportunity, do you think you might consider a Bristol Life Magazine feature in your marketing plan?
If you need any more information, let me know – and I’ll pop you a quick email next week to follow up if I don’t hear back. Have a wonderful weekend!