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Time Inc. Exec: Actually, Our Editors Didn't Create Ads for Google. But They Could!

After all, they've already made ads for Amazon.

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Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Not very long ago, the notion that magazine writers and editors would help make ads for that magazine was unthinkable. Now it’s heading toward the new normal: Last month, Conde Nast announced its editorial team would start making “branded content” — that is, ads — for some clients. And yesterday Time Inc. CEO Joe Ripp told investors that his editors had created ad products for Google.

Turns out, Ripp was wrong — though he was directionally correct, as some people like to say: Time Inc. editors created stuff for Google, but they didn’t get paid for it. But they’d be happy to make stuff for Google, and get paid for it, in the future.

That’s according to Norman Pearlstine, the company’s chief content officer, who notes that Time Inc. editors have already created an advertorial product for Amazon — holiday gift guides that the company described to readers as a “Special Supplement From the Editors” of various Time Inc. publications “for Amazon.”

In the case of Google, though, Pearlstine says it was his idea to have editors create small “touts” on his magazine’s pages last year that would encourage readers to download Google’s flagship search app and ask it questions, using the app’s voice recognition tool. Here’s an example of one in InStyle magazine, which ran in the October issue:

And here’s an example of a Google ad for its search app, which ran in the December issue of InStyle:

Again, Pearlstine says that his company got paid for the InStyle ad, but that it didn’t get paid to create the “tout,” and the fact that both things ran last fall aren’t connected. “I would have done that whether there were ads or not,” he said.

That contradicts the scripted commentary that Ripp read at the top of his earnings call yesterday, when he said Google’s appearances on his magazine’s pages were the result of work by his “Time Inc. Native Studio, which provides custom solutions to our advertising partners and collaborates with the editorial function to integrate marketing across our brand portfolio.”

Ripp went on to say that Time Inc. was an “exclusive launch partner” for a new version of the app, and that “across 11 brands each editor had to come up with two to three questions per issue that were contextually relevant. … The big takeaway is that Google chose to use our print magazines to activate audiences on their mobile devices.”

Pearlstine is wise enough not to say out loud that his boss’s script was incorrect, but the charitable suggestion is that something went wrong in the run-up to the earnings call. It’s also worth noting that on Feb. 5, the company announced that it had reorganized its investor relations and communications departments.

And regardless of how the Google campaign or non-campaign worked, Pearlstine says he’ll be putting his editors to work on ad projects down the road.

So would he do another version of the Google project, but for money? Sure, he says.

“But I would want [it] to be big enough, that somebody would look at it, and say, ‘Oh, that’s an ad.'”

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