Posted by Amanda Chapel
Lessons from MWW-Nikon D80 Blogger Program
Well, every so often, a story comes along that really strikes a nerve here. Some things strum the “Strumpette” brand like she was meant to be. See, like PR, a strumpet manipulates peoples’ beliefs and emotions... and for a couple bucks more, we’ll dance this Thursday’s Rotary Club luncheon at the Dangle Lounge. For the right amount of money, we can do tricks with our tongues that would have you... well... gladly trade your eternal soul for a minute more of unadulterated sweet nothings. Don’t stop... PLEEEEEZE DON’T STOP! Now that’s PR.
A little too ethereal for ya? I understand. Here: I once worked for a total empty suit, leisure no less. But truth be known, Pete was an unbelievable publicist, a genuine media wizard. The guy could place a story about your grandma’s corn in the Wall Street Journal, no lie. How did he do it? Well, he had amassed a personal rolodex too heavy to carry for one. But most importantly, he had built up "relationships". He was always doing favors: impossible dinner reservations? Go to Pete; tickets to sold-out sporting events and concerts? Go to Pete; the occasional trinket for a wife or gumar? You could count on Pete. He was a man of seemingly infinite connections and resources whose total discretion was absolute. Frankly, it was a harmless arrangement, B-to-B greasing the skids some, is all. Excuse me but that's how business works. Right?
Well, that's what we all thought ‘til Pete got busted for giving expensive cameras to a few key reporters. Then Pete’s glorious ride abruptly ended. As a result of the perception of impropriety, most/all of his client’s key trade pubs labeled him persona non grata. In short order, he was washed up and swept out. Sad really. Some would say that he was just being nice and that the media with its patrician views totally overreacted. It was only a little payola, so what?!
... And that still happens today. Just a few days ago this supposed “scandal” broke: “Richard Johnson, editor of Page Six and one of the most powerful gossip columnists in the media world, has admitted in today's New York Post to accepting a cash payment from New York restaurateur Nello Balan. Balan has been regularly mentioned in Page Six. The one allegation Page Six admitted to was that of a $1,000 cash gift in 1997. The Post's editor in chief admits the bribe was unethical.” Apparently. Post editor in chief Col Allan said, "[Johnson] was reprimanded, and policies were adopted that render such ethical lapses completely unacceptable."
Silly. Our adherences to standards like this are down right anti business. Bribes in 3rd-World countries are standard practice. Hello! It's no big deal.
Well fortunately, the Internet is still pristine and uncorrupted by anti business bias or government intervention. Sure, the Microsoft/Edelman laptop giveaway was a total disaster. But that’s really due to mismanagement and a misunderstanding of Internet culture. Thank God for PR agencies like the MWW Group and their ability to maneuver unencumbered by these wrongheaded ethical prejudgments.
A CASE HISTORY: As Indirectly Provided by the MWW Group
First, relax. As an MWW client, you need to get past the ugly term “bribe.” “Incentive” is a much better word and comes without all the baggage. Keep in mind that incentives make good business sense. The key is, how do you get away with it?
Here’s the proposal basically: We’re going to give away some 50 expensive top-of-the-line digital SLR cameras so as to incentify positive coverage of Nikon in the influential and widely-viral blogosphere. I mean, this is a no brainer. It’s a f-ing beautiful camera. This is like giving away 50 diamond rings for Christ’s sake. I mean, let’s put it this way: out of an estimated potential readership of minimally 100,000 subscribers, we do not expect a single bad word. That's money in the bank.
Risk? We can avoid risk totally by adhering to 3 basic principles: Target the right participants; Control the release of information so as to avoid any/all potential public skepticism; and Leverage the expectation of reciprocation.
Including the Right Participants
If we are going to avoid the Microsoft/Edelman giveaway disaster, this is key. First, we are going to make sure each participant has BIG readership and traffic numbers... BUT we are NOT going to pick them all from the “A-List”. See, THAT was Edelman’s mistake. All from the top creates a natural haves-and-have-nots situation. The reason Edelman’s plan turned so sour is that the have nots naturally revolted. That it mind, we have assembled a diverse mix to receive the $1600 value "incentive" (wink wink).
Also, keep in mind, we are targeting unprofessional individuals almost exclusively. These are NOT professional journalists by any means. Add to that that blog fanatics almost as a character trait cannot separate church and state. Trust me: The ones getting the “incentive” will NEVER be able to conclude that this is even remotely unethical.
Lastly, we are going to include just friends, i.e. we are picking high production bloggers but almost to a person they’re coming from our own Tom Biro’s Twitter friends list, e.g. Jason Clarke, Mack Collier, Mike Manuel, Ariel Waldman, K. Paul Mallasch, et al. Bottom line: friends don’t snitch!
Controlling the Information
Again, we learned a number of important lessons studying the Microsoft/Edelman giveaway disaster. Plainly, they were also victims of their own self righteousness. They really believe in all this transparency crap and released too much info and all at once! Dumb. Excuse me but that grossly overestimates the public’s ability to process. We propose to stagger the release of participant names and program methodology so as to minimize public skepticism. Bottom line: if there are skeptics -- and there always are -- they can’t write anything if we don’t give them anything to write about. Also, if they begin to get skeptical, we can appear to alter the program to "accommodate" them. Is that genius, or what?
Optimizing the Expectation of Reciprocation
You want a little action? How ‘bout dinner and a movie. You want to guarantee you’re gettin’ some? Take a B-girl for dinner at Everest and than to the Symphony. Excuse me but you can take that pudendum to the bank.
Actually, as your agency, we can and will significantly increase your chances of scoring. Current research on organizational behavior suggests that “receivers will offer more reciprocation to givers following episodes of brokered exchange because receivers’ experience in requesting a brokered favor is different from their experience in making a direct favor request.“
In effect... MWW is Nikon's wing man (wink wink).
Note: the time to act is now. This opportunity won't be available much longer. With the FTC currently putting the brakes on VNRs, WOM, and other nefarious PR tactics, this is NOT going to be legal forever. If you are considering a blogola program and would like more information how to incentify you market... contact Michael Kempner, CEO of the MWW Group today. Call 201-507-9500 or e-mail the smarmy weasel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LINKS OF INTEREST
Quick Hits — May 25, 2007
Pre-holiday catching-up-with-the-blogs edition, carefully selected for easy beach reading. Much discussion of Facebook’s new Platform application. Todd Zeigler and The Good Doctor Rosenblatt think it’s a potential game-changer, but Donna ...
Weblog: e.politics: online advocacy tools & tactics
Tracked: May 25, 14:53
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The camera's are loaners. At the end, we have the chance to give the cameras back or buy them at an editorial discount. It's not a 'gift' or a 'bribe.' MWW went out of their way to make sure we were transparent about where the cameras came from and the program itself.
"These are NOT professional journalists by any means. Add to that that blog fanatics almost as a character trait cannot separate church and state. Trust me: The ones getting the “incentive” will NEVER be able to conclude that this is even remotely unethical."
I can't speak for the rest, but I consider myself a trained, professional journalist. I'd like to hear your definition, though. (One of the lessons is not to hide behind a pseudonym...)
I'd like to see you use your real name to issue forth accusations.
More on this later maybe.
K. Paul Mallasch - New Media Publisher
"Loaners" wink wink. Can I lend you a diamond ring then, too? Silly. Silly for anyone with half a brain not to know they being bribed.
With regard to my identity... what does my identity have to do with you taking a bribe?
Well, for one, I can't come after you for libel. I haven't taken a bribe.
As an independent publisher fighting corporate media's stranglehold on the American people, I accepted Nikon's offer to try out a camera for up to 12 months. If there was something wrong with the camera, I'd tell people. People also know I've been given the camera to test out - hence no payola or blogola. I've been transparent about it ... unlike you.
Maybe we should show the 'interviews' you sent out to show how one-sided they are? That is, how you (whoever you are) came at this with a preconceived notion and wouldn't take any answers that didn't fit into that view. (Do you work for a rival PR company?)
Again, stop hiding and you might be taken more seriously.
K. Paul Mallasch - New Media Publisher
1. you accepted a bribe for quid pro quo positive coverage. Period.
2. Like the diamond ring analogy, there is NOTHING wrong with the camera that you would EVER be able to discern, per se. That's a silly argument.
3. AGAIN, YOU taking a bribe has NOTHING to do with me period.
"Payola" or "incentives" to have reporters and editors fall in "love" with you, as a publicist, or your client, is an old a practice as PR.
Whereas in the general market media it is a bit 'hush-hush' in Hispanic media it makes the world go 'round. Many publicits position themselves as Hispanic experts because of their 'surname' or ability in speaking or reading the language. When, reality is, very few people or publicits understand the market and most importantly, the media that makes a story happen for your client.
And, although this story is more about the 'incentive' that will make great stories happen for a brand, it is also a reminder about the diversity in the media and consumers.
It takes an professional to know this and an expert to make thigs happen without ('ahem) Edelmenish fiascos.
Every Sunday I turn to the Boston Globe's automobile section and marvel at the cool cars that "journalist" Royal Ford gets to drive for free. Does he choose the Kia that sells for eight grand? No, more often than not its the eighty grand beamer. In the winter when it's snowing? Land Rover. Summer? convertables.
Trial services have been around for ever and it's obvious why. Because it helps get ink.
Giving away an expensive camera or car or diamond ring is unethical and wrong.
Letting an auto reporter drive your car for a week or letting a blogger use your camera is OK by me. But not if they are allowed to keep it.
As you well know, I'm also fine with the author of a new book about marketing and PR sending 163 bloggers covering marketing and PR a free review copy (I've spent the past few weeks doing just that).
This is NOT a test. It is a freebie program set us exclusively to engender positive coverage in the blogosphere. PERIOD. Quid pro quo. IT'S PAYOLA!
Yes, Amanda I totally agree. If it isn't a test and is a freebie for a camera that costs a grand than it is absolutely payola.
This is NOT a freebie. That's BS.
As I said, you came into this wanting to find something wrong and guess what ... you did. Imagine that.
I did not take a bribe. The diamond ring analogy is kinda whack, imho. I let Nikon lend me a D80 for 12 months. It's a nice gesture that won't be forgotten. They did not tell me I had to talk about it or give it 'good coverage.' In fact, they said I didn't have to write about it at all if I didn't want to... but I wanted to so I did (and was transparent about it...)
And you hiding behind a pseudonym has everything to do with it. Open your eyes.
Now you're just being contrary. And you're in denial. You got a gift with the absolute expectation that you'll write something positive. And you will because there's NOTHING negative to write!! You idiot. Just because you're too stupid to figure out that it's a bribe, doesn't make it not a bribe.
LASTLY, AND I AM NOT GOING TO REPEAT IT: You taking a bribe has nothing to do with me. Nothing. Period.
"with the absolute expectation"
Umm. Again, no. There were NO expectations on their part. They specifically mentioned I didn't have to participate and if I did, that I didn't have to even mention it if I didn't want to...
It WAS NOT a gift. It's a loaner for 6 or 12 months. (You probably didn't even talk to MWW did you? You probably don't even know the full details of the program.)
Just because you're saying it's a bribe doesn't make it a bribe. Just because you say it's a freebie, doesn't make it so. I'll either give the camera back or buy it. Granted, the loaner period is longer than it usually is, but there's still no FREE CAMERA, hence NO PAYOLA.
And you making accusations without having the courage to use your real name DOES have everything to do with this. I'll be talking to my lawyer.
"There were NO expectations on their part."
You're either naïve, an idiot or totally inexperienced. I suspect a combination.
"It WAS NOT a gift. It's a loaner for 6 or 12 months."
The extensive lone is a gift. The discount only underscores that point. If I loan you are Ferrari for 6 months... would that be a "freebie." No, you silly goose. Ask your accountant!
"Just because you're saying it's a bribe doesn't make it a bribe."
It is a bribe by definition: 1) Something, such as money or a favor, offered or given to a person in a position of trust to influence that person's views or conduct; 2) Something serving to influence or persuade.
"I'll be talking to my lawyer."
I suggest you do. He/she will probably recommend that you return the camera. He/she will probably tell you that ignorance is not a defense.
As i commented at the time on various blogs, this is of course a freebie. My problem with it is that it is a high-ticket item and a prolonged period of time beyond that required to "test" a camera. Moreover, anyone who takes the option of buying the camera at a reduced price at the end of it must accept that this solidifies the payment they have effectively received for using the camera (and I wondered how the IRS would view that).
Reviewers receive endless streams of product and return them (admittedly they are fortunate to be able to do so with no loss to themselves because another one will be delivered the following week but that's the nature of their job) and readers know this). But they receive things for a small period of time and they return them. If you don't meet these parameters with a product/service that makes a marked difference to your life, then i think your experience is clearly different and I think you are on shifting sands and i am surprised that many people don't see this.
This is not to impugn the recipients personally but from personal experince (with much much cheaper items) I think the pull of reciprocity is strong and many months ago i blogged that the silence about a product might soon become to be seen as the blogosphere's equivalent of criticism (tipping the wink by saying nothing). The natural reaction is to think, if i trash this product then I won't get sent anymore stuff and that is where the danger lies.
Nice work, Amanda.
Your old friend Pete could definitely find himself at home in this new world of camera and laptop giveaways. MWW, Edelman and the rest just don't get it, and will never get it. Fact is most reporters I know at the NYT, WSJ, BusinessWeek, Forbes, etc. can't even accept a free lunch anymore (because of new ethics guidelines). The era of wining and dining reporters is long over. But, the PR industry has a new target for its booty -- the Blogosphere. As Edelman showed, most PR agencies are simply transferring these tactics that no longer work in the Big Media and applying them to the Blogosphere. I though Michael Arrington's recent post on the End of Silicon Valley was fascinating. "They show up at our front door with a bottle of wine or flowers. They instruct their PR firms to do anything necessary to get a story."
And still we hear nothing from Nikon. Amanda, the community has been debating this for, well, I think nearly a month. If Nikon wanted to 'join the conversation' they'd speak...only Tom of MWW has commented. I have so many comments on this all over the 'sphere I think I'm nearing a book...and yet I had one issue with Microsoft and they set a concall with me the same day (MSoft was not doing bribes, it was another question I had for them).
Point is, this comes off as a bribe and, what's more, a campaign of worst practices and secrecy. And the community suffers. The irony? Nikon could have done this right--they only had to read the marketing blogs they're working to influence.
This is not a test drive - this is an opportunity to vanish with a camera. And as for bloggers being professional or citizen journalists, that argument is bunk. Bloggers are demanding to be treated as professional journalists (a current case in Hawaii is on point). If I take a camera for a weekend test drive, document that fact, write about my experience, and then return the camera it's a test drive. If I get to keep the camera, even through a used camera sale, then it's payola. I'm being compensated to say nice things about the camera. I'm obligated to say nice things.
Now I understand all the recent photography talk on Twitter and various blogs. I thought it was odd that everyone suddenly had become a photo nut in the past few months. And lo and behold, they're using Nikons! But nowhere have I seen how they're testing out cameras or giving them a test drive. Everyone talks about how it's pleasurable to use a camera that just works. Give me a break. They feel obligated to talk up their cameras because it's such a fine gift.
I feel all stinky just thinking about it. You'd think someone at Nikon or MWW would feel the same way, but I guess they figure no one will know their little secret so why admit anything. Rest assured this will result in an investigation, eventually. Keep talking about it. That's the best way for any of this to reach the mainstream.