Reprinted from an email received this morning, with permission.
As to your back from the trenches missive on the 'Wicked' site, I think you can go a little deeper. Of course everyone in the outdoor/action sports industry is a competitor in some shape or form, and there is perhaps nothing stranger than the kind of sibling rivalry between pr and mags right now (especially how they work so well together to create editorial excitement for the same brands that they are both pushing for marketing dollars). But I think the lack of transparency or in some cases even objectivity among some of the magazines in the market exacerbated the situation - I mean, seriously, when's the last time you saw a bad review, or the kind of Consumer Reports copy that actually advises readers against buying certain products (Rolling Stone, Uncut and others that publish magazines focused solely on media are much more effective at this, while most of the magazines in our market mirror the everybody gets a medal mentality that is so dismaying in kids sports right now).
'Gear Reviews,' originally devised as a reader service, have expanded into the kind of multi-page catalog copy that you could easily find on any given brand's website, and have done so at the cost of real journalism, and the tougher to get, harder to research, real features that were originally the staple of so many of our favorite magazines. When Ski Magazine is writing extended 'features' on major advertisers like Deer Valley and Vail each and every year, outdoor pubs are celebrating Christmas with 'Giant Holiday Gear Reviews' and the best writers in our market are making most of their monthly check from swag stories, then it becomes pretty obvious how heavy a hand pr and marketers can have in creating a magazine's editorial. I picked up a handful of competitors mags at the OR show and was flat out bummed by the many different flavors of vanilla. Not only was there extended middle of the magazine advertorial that was at direct odds with the magazines own editorial mission, but in some cases the majority of the copy was written by the same small cadre of freelancers, making them even less distinguishable.
In the past, marketing was based on partnering with media that each brand felt best matched its own messaging, with reach to a specific demographic. Now, unfortunately, the marketing is the media. And with the price of a single ad page in many of the most popular national pubs out of reach for the majority of small outdoor brands, it makes sense to give that money to pr firm that can then create the opportunity for positive editorial. On the media side, I think the short-term result of this is going to be more publishing companies offering custom media opportunities that merge the best aspects of print and pr, the rise of regionals that speak directly to a community with more timely and targeted information that is not watered down for a national audience, and more media that has a direct sales angle. The line will continue to blur, but I believe the consumer will push for more transparency, and that the publishers who provide that will be best served in the future.