The Perils of Self-Serving Content


Trade Press Services (TPS) recently worked with a technology client who appeared to be the only provider in the marketplace. This created a professional dilemma. When writing for business publications, our mandate is to provide educational content that will help readers solve problems or perform better on their jobs. It is not to unabashedly promote a client’s products or services through self-serving content. Accordingly, we walk a fine line between positioning our clients as industry leaders or experts in their fields and touting the specific company features and benefits. For example, if working for Microsoft, TPS’s goal would be to assist Bill Gates with writing a story about computer software, but the article wouldn’t specifically address or promote Microsoft.

Advertorial Content = Self-Serving Content

Why not? That’s considered advertorial content. You’ve likely seen this kind of content in magazines—it’s labeled “ADVERTISEMENT” or “special advertising section.” This is to distinguish it from editorial content, which is journalism and is assumed to be fair and unbiased. If a magazine were to publish an article by Bill Gates about the many wonderful features of Windows 7 without any kind of disclaimer, it would be crossing the line between advertising and journalism. This would seriously damage the credibility of the publication.

So when our client seemed to be the only provider of a certain service, we faced a real challenge. How can we discuss this ins and outs of a particular service without writing a purely self-serving, essentially advertorial piece? Here is how we handled it:

  • First, we did extensive research and came up with an angle that positioned the service as an emerging trend.
  • Second, we decided not to have someone from the company take the byline (authorship of the article). Instead, one of our freelance business writers authored the piece and framed it as a news story. This solved our “Bill Gates” problem.
  • Third, we explained the situation to the editor in advance. By doing so, we maintained our integrity, asked for input and came up with a solution together.

Editorial Content

The market reality with emerging technologies sometimes dictates sole provider status. This was the case here. There was really no way around the bulk of the article being focused on just one company. However, our resourcefulness, creativity, flexibility and collaboration resulted in creating a solid editorial piece that met the needs of the client and publication as well.

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