The Carroll County New$ 

Paying for news play.

FAIR TREATMENT: Zero in Carroll County.
  • FAIR TREATMENT: Zero in Carroll County.

We get a lot of news releases around here, for everything from do-good programs to the latest flavor of chewing gum. And while it might be much more profitable to do so, the devil on my shoulder has never quite talked me into asking any of these folks to pony up some advertising bucks for the Arkansas Times in exchange for writing about their wares.

That might be — you know — tacky.

Which brings us to a rather odd e-mail exchange forwarded to us by Little Rock ad man Gary Heathcott, between himself and the publisher of the Carroll County News newspaper, Bob Moore.

Heathcott’s company, Heathcott and Associates, holds the contract to do publicity for the 2006 Arkansas State Fair. As a result, he said they’re sending out over 10,000 news releases to the state’s newspapers during the weeks during the fair, mostly about young folks in each paper’s coverage area who are bringing a prize heifer, goat or porker for show in Little Rock.

While that process usually runs pretty smoothly — most of the press releases we get around here, we admit, wind up in the ol’ circular file without much gnashing of teeth — Heathcott said he was “shocked” at the e-mail he got from Moore in response to a release on State Fair participants sent to the Carroll County News.

“Since we no longer receive any advertising about the State Fair through the Arkansas Press Association,” Moore wrote, “I have instructed our editor not to publish any articles (about the fair).”

After Heathcott sent Moore another e-mail expressing his shock that the publisher would “put such a statement in writing,” Moore responded at length, digging his hole a little deeper by saying that he was also shocked that someone like Heathcott “who can see the value of local news coverage” would ignore Moore’s paper when it came time for ad placement.

“This is a growing problem within our industry that I think is rising to the surface,” Moore wrote. “Media buyers and politicians have passed us over in their marketing strategy because we have given so much ‘free’ press … Politicians fly in at the Carroll County Airport and expect us to come out and take a publicity photo for their campaign. Then their ad budgets are spent on television. In the last two weeks we have received a press release almost daily on Mike Beebe or Asa Hutchison. Here’s another shocker for you. I am not running those either.”

Heathcott said that in 32 years in business, he has never before encountered a publication that tried to “hold a client hostage.”

“This guy,” Heathcott said, “every day he’s got stuff in his paper that he gets no money from. I’ll bet he’s covered at least one story about this potential merger of GM and Renault and Nissan. But I’ll bet you a thousand dollars the guy has never received a dime’s worth of advertising from GM, Renault or Nissan.”

In response to an e-mail inquiring about the exchange and his publication policies, Moore said he would run things about local people participating in the State Fair, but only after they return from the fair.

“In advance of the event, in this case the state fair,” Moore said, “the press release becomes advertising for the agency of record, which happens to be Heathcott and Associates. Be advised that this gentleman, Mr. Heathcott, told the executive director and advertising manager of the state press association that he [the agency] did not need to do any newspaper advertising because newspapers would run it for free.”

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