Mainstream Advertising

Those of us in the adult entertainment business find ourselves with a shrinking market — not due to fewer customers but due to the restrictions on places to find these customers. Many mainstream publications, including those that were once supported by our advertising dollars, are now refusing to sell advertising space to adult companies. Even press release distribution services are tightening their grip, including the restriction of sex health and education announcements.

While it's easy to say that this is further proof of a conservative political agenda deepening the divide between the mainstream and adult camps, this does not solve the problem. In fact, this only enforces an "Us vs. Them" mentality and adds to the problem.

When it comes to mainstream publications, we want their advertising and/or promotional space, and they want our money. The limited ability to advertise adult products affects not only adult revenue but mainstream publication revenue as well. For every adult ad they reject, they must replace it, and in this economy, that's not easy.

The bottom line — our bottom line — requires that we work together. In this conservative environment it is more imperative than ever that adult entertainment professionals build working relationships with mainstream outlets.

In order to build these relationships and have effective discussions with mainstream publishers, adult professionals need to understand the concerns of the mainstream publication professional.

Mainstream publications have legitimate apprehension regarding adult entertainment and sexual health ads. While mainstream insiders acknowledge that relationships, and "intimacy issues," are of interest to their readers — and a few will acknowledge that their readers are interested in adult entertainment — they fear the repercussions of being associated with adult content providers.

As members of the adult industry, we know that in today's political climate being labeled an "adult publication" has its risks. We've accepted those risks, or accepted the fight for our rights, but mainstream publications have not. Many adult advertising professionals have the opinion that large publications and/or their publishers have deep enough pockets to fight any legal battles; however we all know it's cheaper, and easier still, to avoid those battles entirely.

Being associated with adult entertainment has other risks as well. PRWeb's Managing Editor Kathy Sheehan states that its policy of "no sex" is based on the existence of Internet content filters. If PRWeb were to become labeled as an adult content provider, all of its content would be blocked by filters, and that would be the end of PRWeb.

But it's not just content filters and 18 U.S.C. § 2257 record-keeping law that is threatening web publications, or even looming obscenity laws that concern mainstream publishers; it's a concern about puritanical public response. Mainstream publications worry that adult ads will generate subscriber complaints or cancellations, and they worry about ads that will cause other advertisers to pull their ads. Both of these potential scenarios negatively impact revenue.

Getting subscribers and fellow advertisers to understand that a publication's regular relationship or advice column can be just as threatening to the reader as an ad for an adult product is an uphill battle with risks. But there are things you can do.

When the advertising department rejects an adult product ad, the wise adult professional should not accept that rejection. This is because, in most cases, the ad department has little to do with the decision-making process. Most advertising professionals merely deal with the technological issues of ad specs, rates and dates. You need to speak with the person or persons behind the publication's policy.

Based on personal experience, finding the right person to have an ad policy discussion with may be a problem. In most print publications, this is the job of the associate publisher, but this varies by publication. Don't assume that the difficulty in locating the right person is due to your status as an adult industry professional. Most of these publications are large, and despite advertising being the moneymaker, these folks can be elusive — no matter what industry you are in. Be persistent; a relationship is worth the work.

Once you have identified the correct person to speak with, you can begin conversations focused on meeting the mutual business goal of selling and buying advertising space. You can now apply your understanding of the mainstream publisher's concerns by addressing the specific advertising policy.

Policies May Bend
Surprisingly, many ad policies are not written in stone. As one associate publisher said: "We don't have a set policy, however we take each ad case by case to ensure that it won't be offensive or promote a product that could potentially be harmful to our readers." This means there is greater flexibility than most of us think.

In fact, it's important to note that your product isn't necessarily rejected simply by the virtue of its product category. In my discussions with mainstream advertising policymakers, product categories account for roughly 25 percent of the decision. The main factor in advertising acceptance is the ad graphic. As one advertising policy maker said, "Clearly if the creative was distasteful for even the acceptable products, we would reject the ad."

On average, product graphics account for a whopping 75 percent of the executive decision. That's good news for adult advertisers because that is 75 percent of the decision you control.

While taste is a subjective matter, this is something that can be discussed and negotiated. In many cases, you can change the look of the ad, being sensitive to the publication's concerns, and still reach your potential customers. Perhaps after conversations with several publications, you'll even want to talk to your own marketing department about the product packaging itself, to see if it can be modified to bypass future objections.

It will not always be possible to change that "no" into a "yes," but there are more options out there than you think.