News Publishers Cope with Advertiser Concerns, Amid Disaster Coverage

Just days after major news organizations pulled advertising from their Web sites to counter booming traffic, they’re again rethinking ad policy as clients express concern over being associated with negative news reports.

A group of sites offering news about Tuesday’s disasters and the aftermath confirmed that advertisers had asked them to remove their ads or postpone campaigns.

Others, such as the New York Times Digital, ran only limited advertising after reinstating graphics on its Web site.

“We did pull all advertising Tuesday morning, basically wanting to make sure that as many people as possible could get to the site,” said spokeswoman Christine Mohan. “We put some of them back on Thursday, but of course we were very selective of how and where we placed ads.”

Like the NYTD, many sites like, and opted to replace ads in news stories pertaining to the disaster with relief-effort public service announcements, for groups like the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The New York Times on the Web also ran a special ad from the Virginia Tourism Board — similar to one that appeared in its print edition — that displays the “I Love New York” image. The company said that it was in talks with other clients about their options.

“We have gone back to our current advertisers, and asked, ‘do you want change your creatives in light of what’s happened? Do you want to send condolence messages, or a hotline message?'” Mohan said. “That process is still going on … because a lot of the companies are working through their own issues now.”

Other sites had advertisers delay their campaigns entirely.

“It’s to be expected, but one of our chief clients, who is in the travel industry, postponed their campaign until the beginning of next week,” said one vice president for ad sales at a major Web publisher. “Also, there is some thought to tabling it indefinitely.”

Naturally, it’s unfortunate news for Web publishers — many of whom had been feeling the pinch of slowing ad revenues for months — but spokespeople said it’s important to keep the issues in the proper perspective.

“It’s a little troublesome for us, but when you look back on the events of this week … it’s so completely less important,” the source added.

Similarly, a New York-based media buyer said that even though most sites were unable to fully monetize the often record-setting traffic this week, there could be an ultimate payoff, in that first-time visitors will come back in the future.

“Who knows, maybe someone who stopped by one site and is a regular person will start coming to regularly, once they see what it has to offer,” said the buyer, who is a member of the team handling online media for a major national telecom. “There’s some concern about how the TV networks are losing money [by also not running ads], but no one’s been saying how they could benefit a little because their handling of the reporting could win them new viewers. It’s the same idea with everyone in the online space. There is probably some market share to be taken, maybe.”

In the meantime — and in that spirit — several sites have elected to run house ads in place of regular banners. MSNBC, for instance, promotes its desktop breaking news alerts feature in ads that appear alongside. The New York Times Digital runs house ads pointing users to a disaster-related information section, and is considering ads pointing to the site’s Share Your Thoughts area.

“Whatever we do … we’re looking at all of our creative, to make sure its appropriate to be running, and where it’s running,” Mohan added.

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