Thursday, June 14, 2007

Cygnus becomes a sinner

Whenever I think that B2B media has turned a corner and committed itself to the highest standards of journalism, something happens to remind me of why so many people look down their noses at trade publishers.
A reader of this blog sent an email to tell me that Cygnus, a former client of mine, has begun inserting ads in the editorial -- the exact same offensive practice that Ziff Davis and CMP recently abandoned.

If you want to see the ads, take a look at this article or this one.
If you have any doubts that this practice violates the ethics guidelines of our industry, please take a look at this earlier post in which I praise ASBPE for issuing a clear and definitive statement saying that such ads are inappropriate.

And if you have any doubts about where the bending of editorial rules can lead -- if you have any curiosity about what the bottom of the B2B ethics barrel looks like, then check out the Nuclear Power Journal, where news releases are run for a fee. Click on the media kit and read about "editorial participation."

tags: , , , , , , , , advertising


  1. AnonymousJune 15, 2007


    I don't think the article at the other end of that first link is truly worthy of the name. Yeah, I know it was written "By Editorial Staff," but if you read the news release on Sockeye's own site, the two pieces are almost exactly alike.

    The second link also points to nothing more than a warmed-over release from The Hackett Group (and yes, I noted the irony). Again, why the byline?

    My problem is not really with Cygnus dropping ads into what are truly news releases; what gets my goat is when generic, and thereby useless, bylines are attached to such releases. Yeah, so somebody moved some copy around here and there, but essentially, it's still a news release originally written by a PR flack and readers should be told as much.

    Mike Harbour
    Freelance writer (and former trade pub editor)

  2. AnonymousJune 20, 2007

    I thought this was a pretty tasteless and disgusting use of ad links in a news story. A publication called the National Ledger used them in a story about a pregnant missing woman from Ohio.

    Check it out:

  3. Anonymous,
    Thanks for the tip.
    You're right...that is truly disgusting. Among the words that link to ads are "infant" and "DNA" in a story about police testing a baby to see if she was born to the missing woman.
    I think I've made a pretty clear case that these ads are unethical. Now we can see that they are also just plain stupid and grossly inappropriate.

  4. Dear Paul:

    I would have posted this sooner, but I just came across this article recently.

    I was an editor at Cygnus for almost 8 years, and I can tell you that Cygnus has been "sinning" for a long time. In fact, the examples you noted here are quite minor compared to what I witnessed during my time there. A few examples:

    On one occasion, a salesperson at a satellite office called me to tell me that an ad program had been sold to position against a regular monthly column and that the advertiser would be dictating the layout of the column and where it was placed in the imposition. When I informed her that we didn't allow advertisers to do that, I was told emphatically that the publisher had already approved it and that we were definitely doing it.

    I appealed this to the group publisher who agreed that it was a bad idea. However, he then decided on a compromise--he would allow the advertiser to dictate the layout (a half-page horizontal spread that made the column look like an advertorial) but not allow him to dictate the column's placement. I was also obligated to provide the salesperson with an advanced copy of the column so that the advertiser could read it and decide which ad he wanted to run with it.

    Not long after Paul Mackler took over, there was an even worse breach of ethics:
    All of the senior editors were called into a meeting with a vice president and told that President Rich Reiff wanted the editors to begin calling non-advertising companies in our respective industries and ask them why they weren't advertising with us. The company's response was to be forwarded to the publisher. This obviously was meant to be a prelude to a possible solicitation from a salesperson, essentially a cold call.

    Needless to say, there was a very negative reaction from the editors. Not only were we being asked to do something inappropriate, we were not even going to receive a commission if our efforts led to an ad sale. Many objected to this, and eventually management gave up on the idea. It should be noted though, that several of those who opposed the proposal were gone from Cygnus within a couple of years, often not by choice. Furthermore, employees who were terminated were required to sign a non-disclosure agreement to receive severance pay. This prevented them from making public criticism of the company.

    But the worst incident came a bit later. One day another salesperson came to me and told me that he had sold "one of those ad programs that included an editorial interview." He then asked me to call the advertiser to schedule the interview. I was rather surprised by this since I was completely unaware that the magazine even offered such an unethical program. I had been there more than 6 years at that time and had not been informed of its existence. I told the salesperson that I would contact the group publisher (a new group publisher, now based in the satellite office) to arrange for a freelance writer to conduct the interview. As we had no money in the editorial budget for this, I needed to get the group publisher's approval. Despite five e-mails and a phone call requesting a discussion of the subject, the publisher made no response, which suggested that she thought I should do the interview myself.

    This situation was totally unacceptable, and at that point I considered the possibility of quitting. When the company's editorial director became aware of this, he stepped in and wrote the article for the ad after a junior editor conducted the interview based on some questions that I prepared for her. About a year and a half later, I was given my first unfavorable review (largely for "not supporting management decisions") and resigned.

    There were many other instances of unethical and unprofessional behavior, but these are just a few of the worst that come to mind. When it comes to sin, Cygnus has become the Las Vegas of trade publishing.

  5. P.S.

    Here is an example of the sort of "advertorial" that has become common at Cygnus. This is presented as editorial material and listed on the magazine's table of contents.$4578