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Successful mag blurs ed-ad separation

Southern Living
— Are you tipping off an advertiser? (Illustration from Southern Progress web site.)

October 2, 2002
Southern Progress Corp. is not shy about its practice of allowing advertisers to influence editorial content.

Executives at the AOL Time Warner subsidiary based in Alabama argue that the 70% renewal rate among subscribers of its nine mgazines is a sure proof that their policies on "cooperation and sharing," product placement on photos and sponsored sidebars do not compromise readers' intertests, the Wall Street Journal reports. (The online version of the article is password protected.) According to the WSJ, Southern Progress is not only among the most successful subsidiaries of AOL Time Warner, but it also outperforms the U.S. magazine industry.

"There is no church and state," Michael Carlton, a former Southern Progress editor is quoted in the WSJ. "They all sit in the same church, maybe in different pews."

With $170 million in operating profits on revenues of $625 million, Southern Progress contributed 15% to AOL's publishing earnings before taxes.

Some advertisers are allowed to attend magazine planning sessions and make suggestions, the WSJ reports, citing the following example. "In the late 1990s, Janice Hilscher, an executive with GSD&M Advertising, which represented the Texas department of economic development, says she helped come up with story ideas for a stand-alone newsstand title called Southern Living Texas Vacations. As part of the deal, the tourism department encouraged local companies to advertise in the magazine, Ms. Hilscher says, and the ad agency encouraged coverage by the magazine of certain topics and made suggestions about the magazine's design."

The rationale? Says John Floyd, the editor of flagship publication Southern Living in the WSJ: "We don't want the state tourism people saying, 'We've got mountains,' and Southern Living saying, 'They don't have mountains.'"


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