Motorcycle journalism is a pretty distant cousin to journalism journalism, but when I got here a few years ago, whether we always stayed on the right side of it or not, everybody was very aware of The Wall that’s supposed to exist between Editorial (the people who write the magazine/web content) and Advertising (the people who go out and twist the arms of advertisers to make money). The reason for that wall should be obvious; a big bank shouldn’t be able to buy its way out of a scandal by buying a big bloc of advertising in a newspaper. A motorcycle shouldn’t win the Big Shootout because its manufacturer spent the most ad dollars. Sure the advertising people might buy an editor lunch now and then, sometimes even with an advertiser at the table, but attempting to influence editorial for profit was, and remains, strictly forbidden at any respectable publication. It’s common sense, really, but the older I get, the less common sense seems to be.

I’ve only met a couple of MO’s advertising people (there might only be a couple); they work out of a building somewhere in L.A., and I’m told our “marketing department” is a few people in Ontario for all of VerticalScope. I know our biggest competitor, the 800-pound gorilla that owns about ten print bike magazines and a slew of competing websites, has a building full of Marketing and Sales people right next to another building that contains all their Editorial people, and the reason I bring all this up is because I’m jealous I no longer get to go on their week-long dirtbike riding expedition up around Yosemite anymore, the one all the advertisers are invited on every fall along with the advertising and editorial staffs.

It’s only good business, really, since establishing personal relationships via dirtbiking all day and an open bar at night is probably the best possible way to generate ad revenue. (To be fair, it also spawned some great magazine stories.) No doubt I’m spoiled, because it was usually just another great motorcycle ride for me. But then I learned that many of the advertisers curry favor for years to get invited on that junket: For people stuck in an office most of the time, it’s a big deal. A marketing person who used to arrange the logistics told me the bar tab would pay my salary for a year; the sad thing is the company probably did get more return on their investment from the booze than they ever did from me. On the other side of the coin, if I take a person to dinner for MO business, like an interview or something, MO will pay for dinner but the cocktails will come out of our own pockets. I admire the purity of that policy, but not the downscale imbibing that results from it.

111815-whatever-sales-marketing-justiceWe at MO of course are not without taint by real journalism standards, since we do accept press junkets from manufacturers and borrow their great new bikes for weeks – but we like to think it’s okay since we strive to sponge off all of them equally.

What got me thinking about all this was news the other day that a big manufacturer whose sales are slumping announced it would take strong countermeasures by doubling down on marketing and cutting costs, ahhh, elsewhere.

Sell the sizzle, not the steak, they say in advertising – along with quite a bit of other senseless baloney that may have sounded reasonable in 1954. At some point, there needs to be a little protein or we starve. I have to admit most of my favorite people in this business are on the advertising/marketing side of the Wall, since they tend to be the cool kids from school who kept the rest of us giggling, the gregarious extrovert types – the best of whom are genuinely nice, caring people in addition to being great salesmen.

A lot of the better writers and editors in the biz come from the other end of the personality spectrum – moody, contemplative introverts who relate to machines better than they do to people. Not all, but many. Take Peter Egan as an exception who proves the rule, please… It’s a sad fact that our best writers and artists tend to be troubled humans with behavioral issues. When you start blending Advertising with Editorial, though, you run out of room for those off-beat characters. Soon after, your “Editorial” begins to read like “Press Release.” The danger of having great PR people is you begin to believe them: We’re the biggest and best! Aren’t we?

Ever read any Ring Lardner? Google up “Alibi Ike” (100 years old this year).

Ever read any Ring Lardner? Google up “Alibi Ike” (100 years old this year).

Where’m I going anyway? Where am I? In the end, you can spend your money on PR, you can use your budget to hire plenty of great marketing people to entertain the advertisers. Or you can be successful the old-fashioned way, by cultivating great (weird) creative people, putting out original entertaining content everybody wants to read, and generating big circulation numbers (or however we clock it on the www) even happy-tipsy advertisers can’t ignore.

Manufacturers face the same choice. They can spend the gross national product on advertising and marketing, or they can spend a bigger chunk hiring brilliant designers and engineers to build a range of motorcycles with something for everybody. Every time I visit Piaggio’s fleet center, I’m surprised all over again when I step through the door and am greeted by the candy store array of Aprilia RSV4s and Shivers, Vespas, Moto Guzzi sporty bikes, Caponords, and heavy cruisers far as the eye can see. Piaggio is the rare example of a company that needs to spend more on marketing. Actually, it just needs more dealers. We motojournalists are pretty much Piaggio’s marketing department. Wait, is that why they don’t sell many bikes?

Piaggio’s Erik Larson rearranges the waiting room at the Costa Mesa fleet center.

Piaggio’s Erik Larson rearranges the waiting room at the Costa Mesa fleet center.

Anyway, the right balance of steak and sizzle, as usual, is some happy place in the middle. You know I hate to go political, but it sort of starts at the top. Is the Wall still in place? Is it as endangered as the one between church and state? Did I dream the whole thing? Now that Citizens United is the law of the land, which allows unlimited campaign contributions to your favorite politicians and therefore nothing but sizzle 24/7, I’m going to be forced to just ignore all political advertising for the duration. MO’s Editorial Director would commit homicide or resign before he would allow any compromise in whatever editorial ethics MO possesses (he made me say that). As for me when it comes to politics, this time I’m holding out for a nice bottle of Maker’s Mark before I throw my support behind anybody.

  • Old MOron

    “MO’s Editorial Director would commit homicide or resign before he would allow any compromise in whatever editorial ethics MO possesses,” wait a minute. Who is the MOronic Editorial Director? Is that the same as E-i-C?

    “Now that Citizens United is the law of the land … I’m going to be forced to just ignore all political advertising for the duration.” Damnit. Why didn’t I think of that?

    “Or you can be successful … by cultivating great (weird) creative people, putting out original entertaining content everybody wants to read…” That’s why we love you MOrons. And more importantly, that’s why we rise to arms at the slightest hint that The Wall is anything like the one between Church and State.

    PS: that big manufacturer who’s reacting to slumping sales by doubling down on marketing and cutting costs, ahhh, elsewhere? Your considered reaction, is so much classier than my knee-jerk vitriol. Well done.

    • Andrew Capone

      It worked wonders for Volkswagen.

      • Ozzy Mick

        Yeah…cheats. Don’t they own Ducati, via Lamborghini, via Audi?

      • Old MOron

        The last VW ad campaign that I recall is “Drivers wanted.” How many years ago was that? I’m way out of touch with the cage world.

    • http://www.motorcycle.com/ Sean Alexander

      That’s me Old MO. And I did indeed make him write it, because it’s the truth :-)

      • Old MOron

        Oh, I didn’t realize that you are so close to the action. I’ll have to work you into the next Hitler parody :-)

        PS: We MOrons expect only the truth from you MOrons.

  • JMDonald

    Sales is knowing and fulfilling a customers needs. Marketing is propaganda. I sold for years before accepting a product management position that required I work with marketing. Most of them proved to be dishonest. I can count on one hand the honest sales or marketing folks I have known. It is also the title of one of the worlds shortest books. The honest few made everything happen. The dishonest many came and went never to be seen again.

    • DickRuble

      They came and went and took the money with them…

  • http://www.asphaltandrubber.com/ Jensen Beeler

    With all due respect John, but did you already forget the fake H2 specs fiasco from last year?

    • john burns

      Yes. Remind me? They didn’t make quite as much hp as claimed?

  • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

    I remember Erik being less blurry…

    • john burns

      i knew i could count on you to reinforce: “It’s a sad fact that our best writers and artists tend to be troubled humans with behavioral issues.”

      • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

        Who me? I don’t know what you’re talking about. Plus you drank all my Maker’s Mark that I got for my birthday.

        Not to mention the poor spelling: “behavioral”

  • DickRuble

    After a (brief) moment of contemplation of the marketing vs development money strategy by the manufacturer in question, I came to the conclusion that their management is probably right. Here is why. There are a number of products that cannot go lower tech than they already are. Example.. toilet brush. Making the product high tech would take an amount of intelligence and technology that not only would be prohibitively expensive to acquire, but also a painful constant reminder of management’s inadequacies. So what do you do when you have a toilet brush that no amount of innovation would convince anyone intelligent to use? You take your basic brush and convince the other 80% of the population that it’s a fashion accessory. If you paid the Kardashians enough (marketing) money to wear a toilet brush on their head, the popularity of these lowly implements would soar. That is the strategy they’re going for.

    • john burns

      makes sense really.

  • Fawkesdiplomacy

    For years when Microsoft introduced a new product, it was always in need of tweaking. It seemed that they did the basic bug hunting, but left the final debugging to the consumer.
    One of the things I appreciate is that the Motorcycle mags take that chore away from consumers BEFORE we lay out big bucks. The weekend jaunts, long term reviews, etc., will be done by people with years of experience on more bikes than most of could ever consider riding in a lifetime.
    A couple of the magazines will have several staff people review the same bike. This gives us a better idea of what to expect.
    Don’t throw out the perks because of editorial integrity. They can go hand in hand for the consumer.
    Also, it tells the manufacturer how to fix those final bugs that they leave the consumer to find.

  • Buzz

    Interesting point on Piaggio. When I’m riding my Moto Guzzi, people will ask me what kind of bike is it. Often times they’ve hear of M-G but the next thing out of their mouths is, “I didn’t know they were still in business.”

    • Old MOron

      You have a 2014 Custom, right Buzz?
      How’s it going?

      • Buzz

        I do. I’m good.

        What is your former handle?

        I’m heading up to Long Beach shortly. I’m bringing a carton of smokes for Burns.

        • Old MOron

          Take him some Maker’s Mark, too.
          My former handle was my full name.
          “Old MOron” is just as accurate :-)

          Will you be at the show tomorrow?
          I plan to get there when it opens and stay till 1 or 2.

          • Buzz

            I’m going today for sure and I might pop in tomorrow if I spend the night.

            Pete?

          • Old MOron

            No, but Pete’s a good guy. I’m happy to be remembered in his company.

        • john burns

          O no you weren’t.

          • Buzz

            Dang JB. I’m having a drink in the bar at the Westin. I’ve almost finished the bourbon. I’ll leave the smokes at will call.

  • Jack Meoph

    If or when Piaggio decides to build a 300 version of the 946, I will start selling my blood. No marketing needed.

  • Simon Evans

    As a journalist who became a sales & marketing man – in the bike industry – and then became a consultant to the publishing sector preaching the litany of closer collaboration between advertising and editorial departments I suggest the proselytising of artistic independence of the editorial quill is, quite frankly, total bollox…

    It hasn’t been true for at least two generations and if you journos & editors think you’re not being manipulated by slippery-smart marketing men, then its mirror time. I can list literally dozens of editorial pieces – and even entire campaigns – driven not by factual content but by shrewd and clever manipulation of the real journalistic imperative in the 21st Century – `Get it Out There`.

    In the old days we checked our facts, and had the cross-checks of our editors, who checked not merely those facts but also how we had checked those facts before a story was published. Now, if you don’t get `onscreen in fifteen`, you lose. Can’t check facts or else you get scooped by dupes. Get scooped too often and your ad men can’t get the revenue that keeps you in inks and high self-regard, and that makes you the dupe. If not the fall guy.

    You can only have integrity when you’re:
    1; Unrequiring of financial support for your publication
    and
    2: Smarter than those who are manipulating you.

    The former implies no advertising (or marketing men, or subscription services, no linking and no social media interaction) in your publication or you are tainted by EXACTLY the same imperative as those you despise at the importers and manufacturers – the need to sell units.
    The latter implies higher journalistic standards, proper qualifications to perform the role one aspires to (one doesn’t become a journalist by claiming to be one; one does it by earning the respect of the audience and with it their desire to read what you write…) and most importantly, recognition that every day, in every way, you are being played. Like a penny arcade machine. Social Media is the blight that will kill true journalism. It’s far easier (and cheaper!) for `slippery-smart` to influence the masses when they are cumulatively dumber than a bucket of frogs.

    There isn’t a journalist I’ve ever met who hasn’t had his cultivated contacts ask him for a `favo(u)r` – and given it. When I worked for… (no, not today), I pulled strings like a puppet master not only to gain publicity, but also prevent it. Those favors got me favors in return, because I took them. Now lesson 1: When advertising knows that editorial has been influenced, the shrewd salesperson seizes the opportunity. It’s a mutual collaboration that demands accommodation on all sides. And if you think your not `accommodating` then it only proves the above as a truism.

    The press of today is a part of a mass-media exploitation exercise that renders them almost irrelevant to marketing men with skills. The true journalist is the one that can sort the wheat from the chaff, deliver the facts to an attentive audience – and do it before the twitface epidemic reaches 20,000 `likes` and renders editorial comment superfluous to requirements.

    • john burns

      top rant!

      • john burns

        quite a bit over the top, but top rant. For one for instance, fact checking can be done in about 1/1000th of the time it used to require thanks to search engines and cell phones. And for the rest of it, I’m not really getting your point except journalists are all easily manipulable tools and our readers are a bunch of saps? I don’t believe that.

        • Simon Evans

          Perhaps not individually, but as groups:
          True to both.

          So, when I employed freelancers for my company to place and promote my clients products and they got paid twice – once by me and once by the publication – who was manipulating whom?
          And a major motorcycle manufacturer concocts an entirely false criticism of their competitors product and outsources it to an agency that then deploys it in similar style, who is duping whom? And where were the `checked facts`, when not a single person named (and photo’d) for those pieces were ever on the targeted manufacturers customer database?
          If you need specific examples of media-and-masses manipulation, should the denial and disbelief not be triggering a small chill down the spine? Surely you remember the `all-American made` US bike manufacturer that had to buy out its failed wheel supplier… in Australia.
          I’ve personally seen `Italian` & `Japanese` bike parts being made. In China.

          • john burns

            The freelancers were manipulating you. Hooray for them getting paid 2x. We at MO would definitely check any criticism of a product by anybody before we’d print it. I do not remember the wheel manufacturer unless we’re going all the way back to Honda’s ComStar problems 30-some years ago. My kid’s 2006 RM85 has Made in China cast into its engine covers. Is this scandalous?

          • john burns

            and the other big positive side of the always-on information age is that every astute reader becomes a fact checker. In the print day, you had limited information. In the present one, if we print something stupid or wrong, Dick Ruble is up our ass in about 10 minutes.

          • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

            He’s right, you know.

          • Old MOron

            Bwaha-haha, “Dick … up our ass”
            Whether you intended that joke or not, whoever he is, he’s a rigorous fact checker, and a zealous grammarian.

          • c w

            How many of those “astute readers” do you think actually exist?

            I may see fact-checking from the regulars here.

            On facebutt and yootube (a rarely-mentioned social media outlet) fact-checking is a remarkable rarity.

          • john burns

            correcting erroneous info on FB and informing the people who post it they could be charged with LIBEL has become a favorite activity. Well, it was until most of it quit showing up on my feed shortly thereafter…

          • Simon Evans
          • Simon Evans

            You missed the point – I had a motivated team of freelancers to do media placement. It wasn’t me being manipulated… and you and I both know it’s not what IS published that becomes important, it’s what ISN’T.

          • Old MOron

            So Simon, you’ve “personally seen `Italian` & `Japanese` bike parts being made. In China” I take this to mean that you have witnessed fraudulent manufacturing process. I don’t suppose you’ve reported this anywhere? Got a link? I’m interested.

          • Simon Evans

            A link? Congratulations on being manipulated into believing the only truth is published on the internet. :)
            The evidence isn’t yours to have, but the point is that even being stamped `Made in the USA` means absolutely nothing, not without rigorous scrutiny and independent verification.
            Suffice to say, when I reported back to the manufacturers (at a very senior level), all I got was a wry smile…

          • Old MOron

            The truth? Oh, I don’t doubt that there is fraud in the world. I was just hoping for some interesting reading, preferably easily accessed via hyperlink. Thanks anyway.

        • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

          You don’t? Huh!

        • Old MOron

          No, John. Your readers are a bunch of MOrons.

    • Old MOron

      Welcome, Simon. Stick around.

    • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

      Hey Simon! We know who you are and for whom you have written. Do you wear a leisure suit when you ride, heh heh?

      Awesome post, of course!

  • Andrew Capone

    It’s hard for me to contain myself on this topic, as I have made my living in media sales and marketing for 33 years, while occasionally penning some moto- haiku. And I do have some doses of quantitative reality that would shed light on today’s consumer-product-advertising- marketing- journalism continuum. It’s not pretty, and I don’t have the time right now to formulate a full response. But, now a word from our sponsors…I present the Camel Cigarettes and Plymouth NBC newscasts of the 1950’s, when ad agencies actually produced and owned much of TV and radio programming of the day, and news anchors were forced to smoke a certain brand of cigs on air.

    • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

      Would you trust the news from a man who smoked filtered Virginia Slim 120s? Didn’t think so.

    • john burns

      Uncontain, AC, UNCONTAIN!

  • There Is No Utopia

    I don’t know, I got to go on the TREK after I was no longer in a position to buy ads. It was a great gathering of good people and good times! That is, until they fired the publisher and I fell off the list…

    But, when I was an edit guy at the Holy Grail, we had a very strict code of separation of church and state and the best publisher you could ask for, because he would stand up for us even in the face of lost ad dollars–the editorial product was king.

    But that was a different time, I guess…

  • Rob Harris

    How about a few of us motorcycle mags come up with a code of ethics regarding all this? I hear this stuff all the time, but it’s sadly very rare to see a magazine put it into practice.

    • Old MOron

      I guess adhering to a code of ethics while pursuing advertising dollars is one area where it doesn’t pay to be a trail blazer.

      • Rob Harris

        I’d like to think that if a few of the bigger mags got together then it may work. Of course, getting magazines that are ultimately at competition with one another to work together is asking a lot.

        • john burns

          maybe not so much when most of them are owned by Bonnier Motorcycle Group. Wait, maybe media consolidation isn’t a good thing?!

          • Rob Harris

            I agree that Bonnier is not setting a good example, but maybe that makes the need for higher standards even more pressing.

  • Old MOron

    Aw shucks, this is a re-post, so forgive me. It was originally inspired by a MOron called FastFreddie. But it touches on print magazines, duped readers, and editorial leadership, so: http://captiongenerator.com/67571/FastFreddie

    • Kevin Duke

      I almost never click outside links, but I finally clicked this one. Holy crap, did I laugh! Thanks to FF for creating it and to Ol’MO for re-posting!

      • Old MOron

        Well, just to keep the record straight: the work was inspired by FastFreddie, and yours truly was the humble creator.

        In another MOronic thread, FastFreddie said that he was tired of the endless Hitler parodies. What else was I to do but make one about him!

        I started out with FastFreddie, then the parody kind of took on a life of its own. I did manage to tie FastFreddie back in at the end, but the part in the middle applied reasonably well to JB’s article, so I re-posted it.

        Here’s the original thread. FastFreddie has changed his handle to Mahatma. He’s still an ace MOron.
        http://www.motorcycle.com/features/tomfoolery-my-wife-still-loves-rossi.html#comment-2340106616

        • Kevin Duke

          Thanks for clarifying and creating!

  • Shlomi

    To be honest I’m not clear what brought you to write this article. If you got a scope tell us who is the large mc manufacture that their sales drops and, and decided to spend more on advertising and less on making good bikes (well that would be real journalism). If you have issues with cycle world or motorcyclist (not sure who arranges the Sierra and Colorado Rallies) are you blaming them with something ? Then say it.
    My observations is to take bike reviews as a subjective opinion (and yes there is always a bias). I still don’t get it what trigger you to write this article.

    • john burns

      Receiving a paycheck every 2 weeks is a big motivator for me to write these every 3 weeks. And maybe one person who wasn’t aware of the concept of the WALL now might be?

      • Shlomi

        Yes, I get it. Still the timing must not be a coincident, what was the trigger? Who do you think not following the wall lately?

  • c w

    A consequence of the Share/RT Generation:

    You have to explain why this is feels wrong:

    http://redeec.com/whatever-sales-and-marketing/

    or maybe “redec.com” asked permission…

    • http://www.motorcycle.com/ Sean Alexander

      Redec did not ask permission, they simply stole our content, again.

  • DeadArmadillo

    Very interesting article, but I think the author may be working in the dark. Company PR people are very insidious. As an example during the last few years, a Martian reading motorcycle mags would think that most people on planet Earth were riding either BMW’s or Ducati’s and that BMW is the greatest motorcycle in the world. Naked bikes, street fighters (what ever those are), and sport bikes are the darlings of Earthlings. As an ex-BMW owner, I can assure our other worldly friends that those motorcycles leave a lot to be desired. However, if I’m going to travel to Europe on someone else’s dime, track days, dinners, drinks, etc.etc. why would I write less than wonderful things about them? Send me to Milwaukee or Los Angeles, oh, please. That would put me in a mood.

    • Kevin Duke

      We are obliged to write about new motorcycles, and BMW and Ducati have been churning them out faster than other brands. Should we put a quota on OEMs…? In case you hadn’t noticed, we write about EVERY new motorcycle.

  • Douglas

    Maybe this whole dilemma could be solved if Consumer Reports could be convinced to test and compare motorcycles/scooters…..and gear as well. Finding able and competent testers would be a problem, you say? Not really….wouldn’t require and AMA roadrace license. All the hyperbole could be laid aside, as that put forth by automakers, tire mfrs, oil & lubricant cos, etc, is and the product could/would speak for itself…..n’cest-pas?

    • http://norimek.com/blog Robert C. Barth

      My guess is their reviews would be just as bad, or worse, than their God-awful/nearly useless reviews of automobiles.