Case Study: When an Editor Has to Deal With an Advertiser

The separation of  church and state always has been the rule in good journalism but a top editor still is going to have some dealings with the publication’s business side, including its ad staff.

My rule at the Washingtonian was any contact the ad staff wanted with editorial had to go through me, the editor—no going to writers and other editors to suggest stories. I figured it was the editor’s job to listen to the ad people—they circulated all over the area and sometimes did come up with something of interest to editorial. And it was better for me to listen and explain about church and state and say no.

When editorial caused a problem for the ad side, the editor has to deal with that, too.

An example: In May 1998 the Washingtonian did a cover story, “Great Weekends: A Guide to Favorite Beach Hotels, Mountain Lodges, Resorts, Inns, Cities, Spas, and Gourmet Getaways.” The story included a reader survey of favorite getaways (Williamsburg was the winner). The cover package mentioned probably a hundred getaways over 18 pages.

A few days after the issue appeared, I got this letter:

Mr. John Limpert, Editor, The Washingtonian…

As an advertiser with Washingtonian Magazine, we were bewildered when our Resort was obviously absent from your May “Great Weekends” issue.

Over the past seven years, our AAA four diamond Resort has been an active member of the local community and we have been recognized and won numerous awards from various industry publications for our outstanding service and commitment to hospitality. Additionally, ours is the only true full service resort in the Washington Metrop0litan area.

It is our only conclusion, if your recent reader survey registered only minimal votes for us, advertising in Washingtonian Magazine is not proving to be an effective advertising medium for us. Therefore, we have cancelled all future ads with your publication.

We have spent $50,000 advertising in your magazine during the last seven years. As our resort continues to be recognized as a leader in Resort hospitality and new advertising venues enter the Mid-Atlantic marketplace, we plan to explore different options.

Should you wish to discuss this matter, please feel free to call me directly at 703-xxx-xxxx.

Sincerely, xxxxxx xxxxxxxxx, Director of Sales and Marketing

Copied in on the letter were the resort’s vice president and general manager, the vice president of sales and marketing of the resort’s parent company, the resort’s public relations manager, and the resort’s public relations firm.

The problem was that the complaining resort was located less than an hour from the White House. With the theme of the cover package weekend travel, the resort didn’t seem to fit the story. We didn’t think many readers were going to drive 30 or 40 minutes for a relaxing weekend getaway to the Washington suburbs.

What to do. As the editor, I wasn’t going to deal with the resort’s director of sales and marketing—that’s the job of the magazine’s ad staff— so I responded to the resort’s general manager:

Dear Mr. xxxxxxxxxx:

I have sent the letter from your Director of Sales and Marketing to our advertising department. I expect our ad director will respond to her.

My job here as editor is to develop the strongest possible readership for the magazine. We do this by producing an editorial product that is honest, that is trusted by our readers. More than 80 percent of them renew their subscriptions each year. While I talk with business people of all kinds about the area’s trends and changes, it’s not appropriate for me to deal with marketing people who either promise advertising or cancel advertising.

I’ve been at your resort probably a half-dozen times and I think it’s a wonderful place to play golf and the magazine has said so. But I’ve never used the resort as a getaway and I think most our readers think driving at least an hour or two away from the metropolitan area would be a getaway.

With best wishes for a good 1998,

Sincerely, John Limpert



  1. John Corcoran says


    Don’t be a tease. Did the resort’s GM write back apologizing for the inconvenience, double their ad buys for The Washingtonian and inviting the magazine’s staff for a complimentary weekend of golf and good times? Please, inquiring minds want to know.

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