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Almost 17% of senior marketers say their organizations have bought advertising in return for a news story, according to the results of the fifth annual PRWeek/Manning Selvage & Lee (MS&L) Marketing Management Survey of 279 US chief marketing officers, directors of marketing and marketing managers.

Some 7% of marketers said their organizations have had an implicit/non-verbal agreement with a reporter or editor that they expected to see favorable coverage of their company or products in exchange for advertising.

And 5% of marketers said their companies had paid or provided a gift of value to an editor or producer in exchange for a news story about their company or its products.


“These results indicate that there continues to be a group of marketing executives that do not respect the proper role of news media,” said Mark Hass, global chief executive officer of Publicis Groupe‘s MS&L. “Even the smallest percentage of people who are willing to pay in return for a news story creates an ethical issue that the marketing industry needs to address.”

When the survey respondents were asked if the gift or payment was publicly disclosed to the audience, a total of 58% of marketers whose companies had given a gift said it was not.

Moreover, the majority of marketers at large companies said they had requested the payment be disclosed but the media outlet did not divulge the payment or gift.

The survey also addressed other ethical issues that affected the marketing industry this year:

  • 55% of respondents, for example, said that Wal-Mart’s non-disclosure of its authorship of a blog was a recent event that most strongly represented a breach in marketing ethics (rating it a four or five on a scale of 1-5).
  • 46% agreed that former Wal-Mart marketing head Julie Roehm’s acceptance of gifts and dinners from a future advertising agency was also a strong breach
  • 41% said Turner Broadcasting’s placing of magnetic lights around Boston that resembled bombs was a major breach in ethics
  • 32% said that Microsoft acted unethically in how it provided Windows Vista on loaded laptops to technology bloggers.


“Marketing executives may not understand there is a line they shouldn’t cross, but ethical issues shouldn’t be discussed only when a company is found out,” said Hass. “Ethical issues in this new digital age need to be a regular part of the discussion. If they’re not, marketers will start to err on the side of excess and risk doing the wrong thing.”

About the study: The 2007 PRWeek/MS&L Marketing Management Survey was conducted by PRWeek and Millward Brown.  Survey results were collected between April 26 and May 9, 2007. Results are not weighted.

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