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Giving A Bad Review To A Paying Advertiser?


PLangfordJr
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Just curious on everyone's thoughts on this....

Is it right for a local/regional newspaper to give a bad review to a restaurant who has probably bought hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars of advertising over the years?

In the same way we, as restaurant professionals, might overlook a customers' actions at times, or comp something to say thanks, shouldn't there be some kind of loyalty?

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As far as I'm concerned, advertising and editorial are and should always be church and state (or is that state and church?). Readers are owed an honest opinion on the restaurant, as well as an honest reporting of all the news, regardless of its impact on advertisers, and regardless of how much money the subject of a particular story may have spent.

Edited by JohnnyH (log)

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Just curious on everyone's thoughts on this....

Is it right for a local/regional newspaper to give a bad review to a restaurant who has probably bought hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars of advertising over the years?

In the same way we, as restaurant professionals, might overlook a customers' actions at times, or comp something to say thanks, shouldn't there be some kind of loyalty?

Not only right, that's the whole idea behind a review. Advertising shouldn't even come into the radar.

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As someone who has worked for a newspaper, I say negative reviews are absolutely appropriate. It's fine for the advertiser to get angry, but not appropriate for them to expect compensation. If an ad works for you, keep running it. If it's not driving business, stop running it. If you're angry enough that you want to stop running the ad regardless of its business value, that's your prerogative too.

It's far more disturbing how much features content is driven by advertising. I say this as someone who has been the beneficiary of features coverage, not tit for tat but sometimes lubricated by advertising potential.

The publisher of the paper I worked for often complained about the space we gave to book reviews because publishers never bought ads; she also would sometimes postpone publication of already-written restaurant reviews until she could nail down the week's ads. We had enough editorial control that we could run the reviews without advertising consideration, but a new ad account virtually guaranteed a related article, and would almost always bump an article that didn't have any monetary incentive.

Except perhaps at the New York Times, most restaurant coverage is generally far more generous than is deserved, anyway. In Seattle, most of the negative reviews come from a snarky pseudo-alternative paper whose food reviewers can't be trusted any more than the mainstream ones, but that has more to do with the fact that their reviewers mostly know nothing about food than the incestuous relationship between ads and content. (No, I don't own a restaurant, but yes, I have a cynical streak after being misled by the clueless in both directions).

After a negative review, one local mediocre restaurant ran an ad flipping off a restaurant reviewer and calling her out by name. A restaurant could do that if they like, but it'll just look childish.

Just curious on everyone's thoughts on this....

Is it right for a local/regional newspaper to give a bad review to a restaurant who has probably bought hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars of advertising over the years?

In the same way we, as restaurant professionals, might overlook a customers' actions at times, or comp something to say thanks, shouldn't there be some kind of loyalty?

Edited by JasonTrue (log)

Jason Truesdell

Blog: Pursuing My Passions

Take me to your ryokan, please

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I agree that editorial reviews and advertising should remain separate issues.

From a customer/'foodie' point of view, I couldn't agree with you more.

From a business perspective, wouldnt you be regretting ever getting into an advertising relationship with a paper if they blast you afterwards?

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I went to journalism school and worked for many years in advertising and public relations agencies. My PR clients rarely believed me, but at reputable publications (and not all of them are), advertising does not affect editorial content. The reporter's job is to provide an unbiased article.

Consider it further ... if one of the political parties purchased more advertising than the other during election time, should the newspaper give better coverage to the party that spent more?

Or if a large company bought lots of ads, should the newspaper turn a blind eye to layoffs and pollution from that particular company?

I could go on and on, but you get my point.

I am assuming the restaurant chose to spend its advertising dollars with that publication because it saw business results from doing so. I would argue that the reason the advertising garnered results is because its customers found that publication to be a useful one to read. Generally speaking, publications who let advertisers influence their editorial content are not as trusted as an information source, and therefore have less readership, which in turn delivers less desirable results from advertising dollars.

Hope this helps.

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It's highly unlikely in most markets that a single negative review would be the death knell, or even have a particularly negative consequence on your business, unless there are other issues, or if the review was particularly inflammatory.

Like I said before, if the advertising helps drive enough business to justify the cost, I'm not going to be much more than disappointed at a little negative publicity. For my business, newspaper ads and tv ads didn't drive sales enough to keep using them, so I switched to other forms of advertising that worked better. But a negative review wouldn't have been the deciding factor. (Maybe it would have pushed me over the edge if the cost/benefit wasn't as clear... I do make decisions partially driven by emotion, but not exclusively).

Sometimes even bad publicity is good publicity... if you mention a recently reviewed place to a friend and they say they tried it and were very pleased, and you say "what about the negative review in Birdcage Weekly?" and they say "I don't get it... Everything was spot-on for us." Who are you going to trust? The word is still out, and the word-of-mouth counters the negativity.

Regret isn't worth it.

I agree that editorial reviews and advertising should remain separate issues.

From a customer/'foodie' point of view, I couldn't agree with you more.

From a business perspective, wouldnt you be regretting ever getting into an advertising relationship with a paper if they blast you afterwards?

Jason Truesdell

Blog: Pursuing My Passions

Take me to your ryokan, please

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As several others have said - advertising and editorial policy should be completely separated.

I agree that the NY Times does this but do not agree as was implied above that this is the only place where this is true. I can assure you that every newspaper for which I have ever written, if anyone from the advertising department even "suggested" reviewing a certain restaurant he/she would be walking out the door within fifteen minutes.

On one occasion the CEO of a major winery told my editor that "...if Daniel Rogov continues writing wine reviews we will stop advertising in your newspaper". My editor, bless him, responded as should be "First of all, thank you for calling. Second, it is of course your privilege to advertise or not advertise wherever you feel appropriate"

And that's the way it should be.

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From a business perspective, wouldnt you be regretting ever getting into an advertising relationship with a paper if they blast you afterwards?

Aren't you being hoisted by your own petard here? Unless the reviewer is wrong, which you seem not to be implying, then the reviewer is just stating what's what. If you feel that you were unfairly ripped by a review, that's a different matter. But if you're putting out lousy food, just expect lousy reviews and keep advertising.

Put differently, if advertising would be part of your business plan, hopefully quality product would be as well. But if it isn't and you're churning out junk, who cares that a reviewer called you on it? You'd still want to get the word out about your place, right? So why cut off your nose (promoting your business) to spite your face (flipping off the paper)?

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I didn't mean to imply that the NY Times is the only place that separates advertising and editorial decisions... only that generally that food features writing tends generally skews slightly sycophantic in most publications. The NY Times is well known for scathing reviews of sparkling restaurants meant for the trendy and wealthy, but most regional publications tend to publish few to no harshly negative reviews and limit their criticisms to fairly mundane things.

But, in smaller regional publications, free weeklies, and community papers, I do believe, based on direct experience, that the wall between advertising and content is not all that high. It doesn't mean that writers are told what to write or what their tone should be, but that the presence of coverage is often influenced by the presence of advertising. And often the ads teams get a heads-up on upcoming coverage, especially in features, so the influence is bidirectional. One NY non-food magazine with a prestigious name called me up to suggest advertising in an upcoming annual food-focused issue, for example.

Ben Bagdikian's done a pretty good job at pointing out that advertising dollars often lead to fairly pervasive self-censorship even in newsrooms. The bar for "objectivity" is lower in features, as the style of features writing generally demands opinions, but they tend to be kid-glove opinions except in a small percentage of outlets.

Also, the advertising department doesn't necessarily drive editorial decisions, but the publisher often does, and they have an eye on both sides of the business.

As several others have said - advertising and editorial policy should be completely separated. 

I agree that the NY Times does this but do not agree as was implied above that this is the only place where this is true.  I can assure you that every newspaper for which I have ever written, if anyone from the advertising department even "suggested" reviewing a certain restaurant he/she would be walking out the door within fifteen minutes.

Edited by JasonTrue (log)

Jason Truesdell

Blog: Pursuing My Passions

Take me to your ryokan, please

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But, in smaller regional publications, free weeklies, and community papers, I do believe, based on direct experience, that the wall between advertising and content is not all that high. It doesn't mean that writers are told what to write or what their tone should be, but that the presence of coverage is often influenced by the presence of advertising. And often the ads teams get a heads-up on upcoming coverage, especially in features, so the influence is bidirectional.

I think that's correct, especially the last sentence. I also think that regional food editors generally see themselves as boosters and not wranglers of food critics, and so reviews tend to be positive anyway. Sure is true around here, where the bar for food reviewer expertise is about as low as can be in many publications. Hell, one of the major food PR people in town writes reviews for a local magazine.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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With apologies, partly because I've used this phrase on earlier occasions but newspapers, editors, journalists and/or critics who bow to advertising in their reportage or criticism have a name. Honest journalists call them whores.

As we all know there are ten dollar whores and fifty thousand dollar whores. The profession is, however, the same.

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Just curious on everyone's thoughts on this....

Is it right for a local/regional newspaper to give a bad review to a restaurant who has probably bought hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars of advertising over the years?

Care to give us the name of the restaurant and publication so we can check out the review ourselves? :wink:

It's almost never bad to feed someone.

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Just curious on everyone's thoughts on this....

Is it right for a local/regional newspaper to give a bad review to a restaurant who has probably bought hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars of advertising over the years?

Yes!

Those hundreds or thousands of dollars buy advertising space, not good reviews, and the contract for the purchase of that advertising space should not be construed by the purchaser to have any effect whatsoever on editorial content in the paper.

In the same way we, as restaurant professionals, might overlook a customers' actions at times, or comp something to say thanks, shouldn't there be some kind of loyalty?

Not in the field of journalism. Once a newspaper compromises its integrity, it may as well cease publication. And to expect a newspaper to alter or drop a bad review because of advertising money spent is wrong, and unethical.

If you're the restaurateur who got a bad review after spending advertising money with a paper, you've just given away a tremendous character flaw in yourself.

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Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

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It's highly unlikely in most markets that a single negative review would be the death knell, or even have a particularly negative consequence on your business, unless there are other issues, or if the review was particularly inflammatory.

Negative reviews can easily damage or destroy a restaurant. I met with a restaurateur here in Miami whose business dropped 40% after a bad review in the Herald. Reviews, good or bad, matter.

And as a former bar owner, I can tell you that advertising in some papers is accompanied by good press. The 'review' isn't the only thing that matters; there are plenty of ways to shoehorn in your advertisers; either by name, or by industry (this goes for fashion, design, theater, etc., as well as restaurants).

Edited by Miami Danny (log)
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Not in the field of journalism.  Once a newspaper compromises its integrity, it may as well cease publication.  And to expect a newspaper to alter or drop a bad review because of advertising money spent is wrong, and unethical.

Thomas Street Bistro co-owner Adam Freeman says The Stranger agreed to give him “a deal" on advertising—and immediately yank the story from the site—after he complained about the review. Freeman had previously run ads in the paper. (He has also been an advertiser in Seattle Weekly.)

Local mini-controversy in this vein

(I've been to the Thomas Street Bistro once well after the review and it was very decent, simple mostly Mediterranean-ish food).

Negative reviews can easily damage or destroy a restaurant.  I met with a restaurateur here in Miami whose business dropped 40% after a bad review in the Herald.  Reviews, good or bad, matter. 

Yes, matter, but usually not the death knell, unless there are other problems with the business, like cashflow, location or actual quality problems. Quality, convenience, or adaptability have allowed many relatively neutral- to negative-reviewed restaurants to roll with the punches around here.

Edited by JasonTrue (log)

Jason Truesdell

Blog: Pursuing My Passions

Take me to your ryokan, please

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In generalized terms, there are four kinds of restaurant review -

(a) The rave review that can indeed, when from a trusted critic give a restaurant a tremendous boost and if the restaurant lives up to the review the public can than make the place very "in"

(b) The generally positive review can also give a restaurant a boost. It may not mean that reservations will be necessary three weeks in advance but it does mean that people will add this to the places they want to visit.

© The so-so or mediocre review will do nothing positive for a restaurant in the short term but go three-four weeks into the future when Mr Smith and Ms Cohen decide to dine out and one says "Did you hear about restaurat X" and the other says "Oh Yeah..Rogov wrote about it a few weeks ago". "What did he write? I don't remember but let''s give it a try. In other words, no damage done by the critic. That will be done by Mr Smith and Ms Cohen

(d) The killer review. Indeed this will turn off a great many potential diners but no critic today is so powerful that he/she can close a restaurant no matter how terrible the review. The last person who could do that was the great Curnonsky and he has been dead since the late 1950's. The only time a killer review can truly kill is when by chance three, four or more critics write truly terrible reviews within say a two week period.

Finally, one reminder - it is not critics that close restaurants. It is bad restaurateurs bad or misguided chefs, bad or otherwise unacceptable food and bad service and ambiance that do that.

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I write the restaurant column for a leading women’s fashion magazine in Ireland which is highly dependent on advertising for revenue (the population in Ireland means that circulation doesn’t come close to the UK, not to mention the US).

After visiting a newly opened, high profile restaurant in the city centre and requesting the menus by email subsequent to my visit, I was literally hounded by the PR with phone calls and requests to know who she should talk to about advertising. I had to physically pick up the menus and PR blurb and had a tough job getting out alive without meeting the PR.

It was one of my earlier reviews with the magazine, but despite the restaurant taking out a full page ad, my editor let my copy run with barely an edit. It was far from a glowing review, but it was fair, based on two visits (which is very unusual over here, not having the luxury of the New York Times budget). For the main part, this separation of advertising and editorial is representative of restaurant reviewing in Ireland.

However, the restaurant reviews in free-sheet neighbourhood newspapers aren’t worth reading; in general, they’re intrinsically linked to advertising.

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Well...as someone who's bought advertising in a magazine which gave us a glowing review, I find it to be a little fake. I think guests can sense if a review was "paid" for (honestly, we had no idea that the review was going to be so brown-nosing"), and such a review might even hurt the integrity of a restaurant. For example, the owner was noted for his "confidence, charisma, and class" while the food "reminded you of your first love" - the only thing missing was the "sublime" nature of our cuisine.

A review should be unbiased. Nothing more.

Bartender @ Balliceaux, Richmond, Va

"An Irish Lie is just as good as the truth."

- Egan Dean, Table 6 cook

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