Build Your Own B2B Ethics Code
If you have yet to develop an enforceable in-house ethics code, delay no more. The motivating force looming over us now comes in the form of a new trend towards teamwork between sales and editorial staffs. This movement, pundits declare, reflects the imminent demise of Church & State separation—a prospect that probably cheers many marketing folks. But if you are a B2B editor faced with this new outlook, how will you confront the inevitable ongoing array of complicated disputes between editorial and sales?
One solution, all too rare to date, is to create an enforceable in-house code of ethics specifically addressing marketing disputes. While you can refer to outside ethics codes for guidance, they may not always deal with the most likely situations you’ll encounter. For example, here are three real-world scenarios your marketing code should cover.
Guaranteed editorial support. While serving as ASBPE’s ethics committee chairman, I was alerted to a serious lapse of integrity. It involved a publisher who decided to guarantee advertisers that full-time editorial staff would create copy for an upcoming promotion. At the time, several ethics codes included the usual caveats insisting that editors steer clear of sponsored content activity. But of those, only ASBPE’s code comes close to addressing this situation: “At no time during negotiations should a publisher or other marketing representative guarantee editorial coverage of an advertiser’s product or services, or assistance by an editor in preparing advertising-related copy.”
Deluge of hooks. When the time arrives to plan next year’s feature line-up, will your schedule be saturated with hooks that please advertisers but disallow sufficient coverage of more pertinent reader concerns? Editors will often be reluctant to defend editorial quality in this situation, fearing repercussions from an insistent publisher. Most ethics codes begin with idealistic goals of following the highest standards of journalistic and publishing practice. But apparently that hasn’t limited the flood of advertising-oriented hooks when push comes to shove during editorial planning.
Who’s the boss? Now that “editor-in-chief” titles have gone by the wayside in favor of “content director,” there is additional onus on that individual to wear several hats well. At least there is a positive note here, since this change of title supports editors’ right to review sponsored content prior to publication. Here’s how Connectiv’s Content Code of Ethics addresses the matter: “Great care must be taken with editors’ involvement in the production of sponsor content, ensuring that conflicts of interest are avoided and the brand’s reputation [is] protected. That said, ranking editors may supervise teams or individuals that separately produce sponsor content and editorial content.”
Of course, there are many other topics related to marketing that an ethics code might address. As noted above, almost every ethics code you’ll review begins by enjoining publications to maintain the highest possible journalistic and ethical standards. Somewhere along the way, attempts to undermine these standards will surely be made. So when your final code draft is complete, be sure to get sign-off from your publishers and/or marketing team.
This is the first in a series of articles Editorial Solutions Inc. is devoting to B2B ethics concerns. Comments and suggestions for future coverage are welcome.