Advertisers are finding that the front-page ads in The Wall Street Journal -- now available for nearly $100,000 a pop -- may be a great way to reach the business world, but they can also be disastrous if bad news about their companies appears on page one the same day.
"We know that when there's negative editorial in a newspaper or magazine, that does have a negative impact on our ad," said Ryndee Carney, manager for advertising and marketing communications, General Motors Corp.
That's what happened Sept. 29, when the front page of the Journal included a GM ad that read, in part, "A New Level of Confidence" and, directly above it, an article about dissident investor Kirk Kerkorian "raising the stakes in his bet on overhauling General Motors Corp." Mr. Kerkorian, the article reported, wasn't showing a lot of confidence in the ability of Chairman-CEO Rick Wagoner Jr. to restructure quickly enough.
GM was also the same company, remember, that pulled all advertising from the Los Angeles Times for four months in 2005 after what the carmaker said were factual errors in the paper's reporting.
Can't control the news
But you can't control the news, Ms. Carney said matter-of-factly last week. Monthly magazines usually give the automaker a heads-up and a chance to pull ads if a negative article is coming, but daily papers don't have the lead time for that. "When you buy advertising either on a news program, for example the 'CBS Evening News,' or in a daily newspaper, you take your chances."
Hewlett-Packard took an even harder hit Oct. 5, when an ad across the bottom of the front page promoted HP color laser printers with the copy: "Another good investment found in The Wall Street Journal." The top news story that day was headlined: "California Charges Dunn, 4 Others in H-P Scandal."
In a statement, the company affected a shrug. "HP is focused on achieving our marketing and sales objectives to drive shareholder value," said Scott Berg, worldwide media director. "We do this by communicating the value of HP products and services to businesses and consumers regardless of editorial coverage by any publication."
Understanding among advertisers
C. Gordon Crovitz, Journal publisher and an exec VP at parent Dow Jones, said no advertisers had complained. "This is a tribute to the understanding among advertisers that the marketing messages in the Journal are as valuable as they are in part because of the authoritative, honest and independent editorial environment that we provide."
The Journal isn't the only paper offering new high-reward, high-risk real estate. The New York Times began selling ads on the bottom of the front page of its business section in July, but so far advertisers there -- such as Bank of America and American Express -- haven't been scraped up by same-day, same-page bad news.
There is the potential for a company's luck to swing the other way. Toyota chalked up a potent ad-edit twofer Oct. 4, when the front page included a Toyota ad and this item in the "What's News" column: "Toyota's US sales surged 25% in September even as GM and Chrysler sagged. GM said it would deepen production cuts."