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January, 2008

Greek Ghosts

Writing Trade-Outs
Advertising supplements
By  Helen Dunn Frame

What's a "trade-out?" Simply, it's an article that is written in a special section or magazine as part of an advertising agreement. The size of the ad determines the length of the article, which must be written in a totally positive manner.

My first experience in writing trade-outs was as a freelancer. The assignment resulted in a special section published in 1972 by the now defunct Dallas Times Herald. Featuring movers located in Dallas, Texas, it was a 12-page tabloid insert in the daily paper. At the time I was the Public Relations Manager for American Mayflower Moving and Storage. I created the entire section, interviewing the competition, and used photos I had taken including one of the movers hauling a credenza I still own.
In this case the front page article that carried my byline was about the history of moving and the Dallas Movers Association. Ethics were emphasized. In addition, feature articles were included among those about the many advertisers who were movers and companies like Strawn that carried machinery used by them.
Under the newspaper's logo, the words "Classified Display" were printed; today it is more usual to see "Advertising Supplement" in relatively small print and located where it might be less noticeable. Even with these notices, many readers won't realize that the section oozes promotion.
In addition, for several years on and off I was paid to write articles that appeared in five area publications distributed in Dallas and its suburbs. Each essentially was the same magazine, except the featured advertisers and cover story varied according to the targeted readers. Businesses throughout the city bought ads and received upbeat stories. Photos of society events helped to attract readers and provided staff the opportunity to hobnob. The Editor/Publisher, who scrambled to make a living from these publications, also used the magazines to showcase her columns. The size of the reported readership of the free periodicals justified the cost of ads.
The editor demanded catchy headlines and creative approaches. Some of my headlines were, Will The Real Indiana Jones Stand, Jonas Born Again, Wellington Steaks Its Reputation, and Hard To Find But Well Worth It. These stories were about a broadminded religious man who led archaeological digs in the Middle East and had written a book called Will The Real Jesus Please Stand, a clothing store that reopened, a restaurant, and a jeweller. After a while clients would ask for me because my articles resulted in sales.
My technique, which I still use for interviews, was to record the session. I asked permission and started off the "visit" with questions designed to relax the person so the low sound of the tape whirring was soon forgotten. If I had to turn over the tape, I once again conversed with the subject before asking more direct questions.
Bottom line, if you attempt to take notes even in shorthand, it's easy to miss things, get quotes wrong, and not remember the nuances in a person's voice. When I transcribed the tape, I invariably caught an obvious theme.
If you will peruse my articles and columns published by IN, you will notice I start them off with some kind of reference, i.e. to an ad for a retreat, and then end with a tie-in to that beginning. It's like putting a bow on a package.
Look at the publications in the area where you live. The local paper may feature special sections from time-to-time. Find out if they hire freelancers because they can figure the cost of a writer into the price of the ads and pay less for an outsider than for a staff member. You might suggest subjects that you could write about for the classified salespeople to market. Look at magazine stands around town and in the Sunday paper among the advertisements you throw out for publications like the one I described. Sometimes they are marketed this way.
While you won't get rich writing special sections or trade-out articles for magazines, you may at least pay for gas. Insist on a byline, which enables you to add the publications to your list of writing credits. Remember, it's like getting a Master's Degree. It looms more important for the first job after graduation. Thereafter, it doesn't matter what you studied, or in this case, what you wrote, just that you have a long list of writing credits.
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Helen Dunn Frame. A Syracuse University journalism school graduate, published in major newspapers, magazines and trade publications in the United States, England, and Germany. Her writing skills and love of travel led her to write her mystery novel Greek Ghosts. Email: Web site:

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