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Lies, damned lies and advertorial

Yes, I know we’re in a fiercely competitive industry. Everyone trying to make a living in it has to do everything possible to promote themselves and their wares. Social networking might have been invented for the performing arts industries.

I have worked for over 25 years as a journalist and for much of that time I’ve been professionally connected with various aspects of performing arts, especially and unsurprisingly – given my education background – at training level. So I have a foot in each camp: performing arts and journalism. And I’m struck more and more by the way some performing arts organisations exploit public ignorance – exactly what some people allege that forthright Brexiteers did to swing the referendum their way, incidentally.

A few facts. If a journalist writes a  news piece or feature for a reputable publication, he or she is paid a fee (unless on contract in which case it’s part of salaried work). The piece will be disinterested and factual, or it should be, and the subject of the piece is unlikely to have seen it first. Few respectable newspapers and the like will grant “copy clearance” other than under very unusual circumstances.

These days most newspapers and magazines also openly publish some “advertorial” to generate income and that’s a whole different kettle of fish. The organisation  which wants to be featured does a deal with the paper’s advertising department and pays a fee to the publication. But it isn’t just an advert because a by-lined journalist will be asked (for a fee or as part of salary) to write it. Since, the organisation in question is paying for it there is an understanding that the piece will be positive and almost certainly carefully vetted before publication. Such pieces are clearly marked “Advertorial”, “Promotion in association with Fred Bloggs Performing Arts” or something similar in order to distinguish them from Proper Journalism.

It is therefore at best disingenuous, and at worst wilfully misleading, for organisations to use advertorial published in newspapers etc as part of their social media advertising with the claim that “Drama Gazette” or “Actors at Work” has featured us again – just look.”

I have noticed several training organisations doing this recently – in some cases even removing the telltale disclaimer “advertorial” at the top.

Caveat emptor. Look very carefully – and maybe trace it back to the publication which originally published it before you take any notice of it  – at any article which a performing arts organisation with something to sell is trying to draw your attention to.

Not very Christmassy but it needs to be said.

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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