Monday, March 18, 2013

Today's vocabulary term is "flack-to-hack ratio"

Felix Salmon has one of those that-explains-a-lot posts up on his blog:
Quartz, in this deal, is getting one article, which needs a fair amount of editing; it’s a tiny proportion of Quartz’s daily output. Meanwhile, Brandtone is getting something very valuable indeed. Just look at the US flack-to-hack ratio: it’s approaching 9:1, according to the Economist, which means that for every professional journalist, there are nine people, some of them extremely well paid, trying to persuade that journalist to publish something about a certain company. That wouldn’t be the case if those articles weren’t worth serious money to the companies in question.

How valuable? How about somewhere between $250,000 and $1 million? That’s the amount of money that Fortune’s ad-sales team was asking, earlier this month, for a new product called Fortune Trusted Original Content:

Similar to licensed editorial content, TOC involves creating original, Fortune-branded editorial content (articles, video, newsletters) exclusively for marketers to distribute on their own platforms.

After news of the TOC program appeared, it was walked back — abolished, essentially. You can see why Fortune’s top editorial brass would be uncomfortable with the idea that Fortune editorial content could be commissioned by, and appear for the sole benefit of, advertisers. So now they’re going back to the old model, of just allowing advertisers to license (reprint, basically) stories which were independently commissioned and published by Fortune’s editors.

Still, the price point on the now-aborted TOC program is revealing. The cost of the content, from a “trusted freelancer”, would probably not be much more than a couple of thousand dollars — but the cost of the content to the advertiser could be as much as $1 million. The difference is entirely accounted for by the value of the Fortune brand.
The flack-to-hack ratio may have something to do with another recurring topic, the almost complete lack of coverage of the reemergence of over-the-air television (see here, here, here, here, and... hell, just do a search). Weigel Broadcasting may be an extraordinarily well run company, but as long as they run a largely flackless operation, you'll probably never hear about them.

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