A newspaper-style advertising insert in last Wednesday's Gazette-Times prompted some angry letters from G-T readers who saw it as an attempt at electioneering by an unidentified political group, but the people who bought the ad say that was never their intent.
"It's information that would be useful for the election, but it isn't in any way, shape or form meant to influence the election," said Bridget Barton of Third Century Solutions, a Lake Oswego public affairs and public relations firm with expertise in economic issues. "It is meant to be educational only."
Dubbed the Economic Times of Oregon, the four-page insert is printed on newsprint, is designed to look like a newspaper and carries newspaper-style articles about the state's struggling economy.
It does not advocate for or against any particular candidate or ballot measure, although one article links ex-Gov. John Kitzhaber, who is running to regain his former office, to policies that "(sent) business into a tailspin" and to "unprecedented control of state politics" by the public employee unions.
On the other hand, each page of the insert bears the header "paid advertisement," and Barton said that's all it was intended to be, a promotional piece for her company.
"It's an effort to provide information and research to the public as we show the kind of work we do," she said.
The message reached a lot of potential customers for Third Century Solutions. Some 170,000 copies of the Economic Times of Oregon insert ran in seven or eight newspapers around the state, including the Gazette-Times, the Albany Democrat-Herald, the Statesman Journal in Salem and The Oregonian in Portland, Barton said.
Gazette-Times Publisher Mike McInally said he couldn't recall the G-T carrying any previous preprinted insert designed to look like a newspaper. On the other hand, designing display ads to look like news articles is a time-worn marketing strategy most readers have grown accustomed to. The G-T's policy is to be sure any such ad is clearly labeled as such and that the type faces used don't mimic the newspaper too closely.
"If we think an advertiser is trying to fool somebody into thinking an advertisement is an editorial product of the Gazette-Times, that's over the line," he said. "We won't allow that."
If the pro-business, anti-big government tone of the Third Century Solutions insert had a familiar ring to some readers, it may be because Barton and her partner, Jim Pasero, were the editor and publisher of Brainstorm NW, a conservative monthly magazine that covered Oregon politics and other issues from 1997 to 2009.
Barton insists that the Economic Times of Oregon is not a reincarnation of Brainstorm, but she said the newspaper-style insert is an advertising approach Third Century Solutions might use again.
"Economic Times of Oregon is something we may put out occasionally," Barton said. "We really haven't made any decision about that."
Bennett Hall can be reached at 541-758-9529 or firstname.lastname@example.org.