The demise of the advertorial business

By Felix Salmon
September 3, 2009
March 2006 blog entry and its July 2006 follow-up, there are now more than 50,000 words of comments from people either involved or thinking about getting involved in this business.

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Two of the most popular blog entries I ever wrote were on the subject of AFA press. AFA is a publisher of sleazy advertorials, targeted mainly at companies in developing markets. (In the US, they operate under the name “Summit Communications”, when producing inserts for the New York Times.) Between my original March 2006 blog entry and its July 2006 follow-up, there are now more than 50,000 words of comments from people either involved or thinking about getting involved in this business.

But finding the good stuff amidst so much volume is not easy, so it’s great that Alan Furth has now blogged his own experiences working for this kind of company.

I was in charge of the editorial for the supplements, so I had to “interview” CEO’s and key government officials on their views about the attractiveness for business of their countries and companies.

A typical “interview” was structured as a 30-minute conversation that had to strike a delicate balance between gathering information for the copy of the supplements, and most importantly, making the interviewee say the right things that would allow my accompanying colleague — invariably an attractive, sharp, aggressive saleswoman as most people in positions of power in the developing world are still men — to construct the arguments for selling him an expensive ad in the supplement…

I became totally focused on listening attentively to my interviewee’s answers, taking notes, and coming up with witty comments for sparkling the space between questions and adding flavor to the conversation. I had to pay close attention to my interlocutor’s body language to gauge his emotional state: if he was tired, bored or angry, the pressure was on. I needed to wake him up somehow, to find which buttons to press in order to put him in the right frame of mind for a sale, while still feeling he had been “interviewed” by a journalist. Seeing his mood change subtly in the right direction was exhilarating, each favorable micro-expression getting me a bit closer to signing an advertising contract, and a commission of several thousand dollars.

The problem with this kind of thing is that once the big guys have been burned once or twice, they’re unlikely to fall for the same scam again. So Furth had to go lower and lower on the food chain, looking for unpicked-over companies:

In our hunt for “virgins”, we scoured the countries searching for them, storming into office buildings, taking advantage of relaxed, unstructured, friendly local cultures to steal 30 minutes of the boss’s time, and walking out with a 25,000 USD ad contract from a small stock brokerage firm that didn’t make a million USD in yearly turnover. Or for that matter, from a truck-manufacturing company that had no exports, no international expansion plans, or any other minimally rational reason for advertising with us.

I guess that the good news here is that this business model contains all the seeds of its own demise: according to its own website, Summit Reports has published nothing since February. With luck, it’ll be a long while until such things re-emerge.


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And it works because, well, people like to hear themselves talk.

Posted by Curmudgeon | Report as abusive

Hi, am from Malaysia and we have been approached a few times by the publications mentioned as associates of AFA-Press. Just wondering if Oxford Business Group based out of UK is part of the link? They are also publishing country reports.
Look forward to hear more.

Posted by nanz | Report as abusive

Oxford Business Group is a competitor of AFA, the owner was trained by AFA.

The country reports are super effective and they have a high market penetration and retention. If you want to place your business in the international eye through a country report is the most effective way to do so.

But I strongly recommend to use AFA as they are the experts in this field and know how to do their job/ country reports.

ALl these bad comments about AFA that one hears is just the result of the new comers trying to bring AFA down, besides the massive effort AFA is still recruiting and training many lovely people that like to travel, learn, meet very interesting people and provide to the world a point of view of that particular country.

I have published many times in several country reports due to my international business and I have to say that I always get overseas phone calls enquiring about my business and therefore I create new ties and possible investments overseas.

Kind regards,

Stephanie Medina

Stephanie Medina

Posted by fanitastik | Report as abusive

Oxford Business Group is the only company in the industry that has some seriousness and decency to it. Their investment guides are decently researched and they keep a minimum of editorial independence from advertisers. If you will work in the industry, by all means work for them, and only for them.

Posted by AlanFurth | Report as abusive

As far as i know no one in Oxford Business Group’s management comes from AFA (former NOA), perhaps a couple of them come from other competitors but not from AFA.

The owner was never in the industry, he was (and is still today) a smart guy who graduated from Oxford Uni and started producing economic reviews about countries, such as Syria and Turkey. Then a woman got on board at some point in time, and the ads were included in the research. Editorial is still today independent and they have a great guy int he editorial department who makes sure this stays the way it is. Perhaps a few quotes of advertisers are given priority, but there are no advertorials and editorial or interviews are never sold.

Stephanie – i am impressed with your lies!! you wrote in another blog (and the same day) that you WORK for Afa and now you pretend to be a client? come on! here is the other comment you signed:
Stephanie Medina says: -of-the-special-advertising-section/809
June 7, 2010 at 9:55 pm
Hey Nick,

It is a shame actually… what you describe is true but you knew that before you started with AFA right? they don’t lie!
And you probably made money out of it right???? based on commission you can earn big bunts.

Now you probably just created the competition and therefore need to speak badly about AFA, all competitors as you say are trained by AFA.

You know what? I fell ashamed by all those lost souls that bite the hand that feeds them, lack of respect and manners…

I have no more comments to add. I work for AFA, no company is perfect but they take care of you like no one else, and the payroll is superb. Maybe you personally just conducted shit reports, the director decides how the report will be laid out, ohhh maybe you never were a director and now you are just frustrated!!!!

AFa is a super interesting job where you meet very interesting people and yes, we do country sections that are inserts of prestigious media…

Kind regards,

Stephanie Medina
Fan of AFA and not ashamed at all!!!!!

Posted by Martha3Smith | Report as abusive

Anyone considering to work for this industry must be aware that besides all the sleaziness, you will very likely end up working and possibly sharing an apartment with a boss that will treat you very much like, er, Sarah Palin apparently treats people who work for her!

I challenge anyone who has worked for AFA not to chuckle at how similar this description of Palin’s behavior is to the prototypical AFA Queen’s:

“A onetime gubernatorial aide to Palin says, “The people who have worked for her—they’re broken, used, stepped on, down in the dust.” On the 2008 campaign trail, one close aide recalls, it was practically impossible to persuade Palin to take a moment to thank the kitchen workers at fund-raising dinners. During the campaign, Palin lashed out at the slightest provocation, sometimes screaming at staff members and throwing objects. Witnessing such behavior, one aide asked Todd Palin if it was typical of his wife. He answered, “You just got to let her go through it… Half the stuff that comes out of her mouth she doesn’t even mean.” When a campaign aide gingerly asked Todd whether Sarah should consider taking psychiatric medication to control her moods, Todd responded that she “just needed to run and work out more.” Her anger kept boiling over, however, and eventually the fits of rage came every day. Then, just as suddenly, her temper would be gone. Palin would apologize and promise to be nicer. Within hours, she would be screaming again. At the end of one long day, when Palin was mid-tirade, a campaign aide remembers thinking, “You were an angel all night. Now you’re a devil. Where did this come from?”

The intensity of Palin’s temper was first described to me in such extreme terms that I couldn’t help but wonder if it might be exaggerated, until I heard corroborating tales of outbursts dating back to her days as mayor of Wasilla and before. One friend of the Palins’ remembers an argument between Sarah and Todd: “They took all the canned goods out of the pantry, then proceeded to throw them at each other. By the time they got done, the stainless-steel fridge looked like it had got shot up with a shotgun. Todd said, ‘I don’t know why I even waste my time trying to get nice things for you if you’re just going to ruin them.’ ” This friend adds, “As soon as she enters her property and the door closes, even the insects in that house cringe. She has a horrible temper, but she has gotten away with it because she is a pretty woman.” (The friend elaborated on this last point: “Once, while Sarah was preparing for a city-council meeting, she said, ‘I’m gonna put on one of my push-up bras so I can get what I want tonight.’ That’s how she rolls.”) When Palin was mayor, she made life for one low-level municipal employee so miserable that the woman quit her job, sought psychiatric counseling, and then left the state altogether to escape Palin’s sphere of influence—this according to one person with firsthand knowledge of the situation. The woman did not want to be found. When I finally tracked her down, her husband, who answered the phone, at first pretended that I had dialed the wrong number and that the word “Wasilla” had no meaning to him. Palin’s former personal assistants all refused to comment on the record for this story, some citing a fear of reprisal. Others who have worked with Palin recall that, when she feels threatened, she does not hesitate to wield some version of a signature threat: “I have the power to ruin you.”” res/2010/10/sarah-palin-201010?currentPa ge=2

Posted by AlanFurth | Report as abusive

Hi, are AFA Press and World Investment News somehow connected? Thanks!

Posted by Hallo75 | Report as abusive

Has anyone heard of Commit (bcommit) or Veritas Communications? They both produce special sections for French media (Valeurs actuelles, Les Echos).

If you have, or if you know anyone who works / used to work for either company, please do let me know. I am a French journalist based in Paris. You can follow me on Twitter: @cbonnerot

Posted by cbonnerot | Report as abusive

Hello all! I’ve started a blog with details of my six years of experience in this industry, please visit it and let’s take the lively debate there on the goods and evils of this controversial industry! Visit: Or Email me specialsextions at hotmail dot com

Posted by specialsextions | Report as abusive