An advisor told me to write this story. I was at a gathering of Commonwealth Financial's top advisors, and this gentleman suggested we write a particular kind of article in the magazine. He then caught himself, saying, “But your advertisers would be angry” if we did run such an article. I explained how we (the editors at Investment Advisor and ThinkAdvisor.com) regularly run afoul of our advertisers and other companies in the financial services industry over what we publish and what we don't publish. I related to this advisor some recent events showing the true relationship between what we call “editorial” and companies in the industry.
For example, one company recently asked us to make some changes to an article that had been published a year ago. “Compliance” at said company requested that we change some of the language in the story, and in particular change or delete some quotes made by the lead proponent in the article of an approach sponsored by the company.
First, I admit that we are fallible at Investment Advisor. We make mistakes. We get numbers wrong. We miss typos and misspellings. So when a reader points out errors of fact or style, we are more than happy to make corrections. It doesn't happen all that often, but we do publish many columns, feature stories, news articles and blogs over the course of a day, a month, a year. While we strive to limit mistakes, and won't tolerate writers who make such mistakes in their reporting or writing, we know some will slip through. When notified of an error, we fix it.
However, “fixing” quotes is a different matter. There's a funny thing about human beings: When we see our own utterances in print, we are often unsatisfied or disappointed. We say to ourselves, “Hmm, I could have said that better. I should have mentioned that company or that person in my response. I should have sounded smarter.”
The “could haves” and the “should haves” haunt too many of us. “But wait! What if I could provide a better, more intelligent-sounding quote in which the undesired omissions are included and the desired cuts are deleted? That would fix things!” But as I said, we don't “fix” quotes in our articles, whether a quotee's compliance department requests it or not. We won't go out of our way to make you sound dumb, and as a matter of course we fix little grammatical mistakes so you’ll sound more intelligent, not less, but we report what you say as you actually said it.
That's because we care about accuracy and we care about our own credibility with you, the reader. While we are very happy that advertisers choose to spend money with us in print or online or in live or virtual events, in the editorial department our bosses are the readers.
We will report accurately what we learn and what we hear in our attempt to provide you with the information and insight that you need to do a better job for your clients, your colleagues, your employees and your families. We will not write a favorable article about a company just because said company spends advertising dollars with us. We will also not penalize a company because said company does not spend advertising dollars with us. We will not change an accurate quote because a company's compliance department asks us to do so.
That's a policy that benefits readers, of course, but I’d argue it benefits those advertisers as well. If an advertiser or prospective advertiser reads an article in one of our publications, that advertiser will know that there's a level playing field for all companies that are trying to reach advisors. More important, readers, like my Commonwealth friend, will understand that there is a level playing field.