Posted by Mark Rose
I am technically on vacation – meaning I work at a more leisurely pace – so I restricted my Internet time to news of Lindsay Lohan (plenty of juicy tidbits), the Yankees (relentlessly depressing), the war (bloody and escalating), and Strumpette (intriguing flare-ups of professional turpitude and personal greed and denial). The highlight to Strumpette last week, of course, was the MWW/Nikon blogola imbroglio that elicited protestations of innocence, condemnations of guilt, and threats to involve the lawyers. You had all the psycho-professional mashup necessary to fuel an uncomfortable discussion about the line between journalism and advocacy, a bribe or favor, high ethics and low greed.
Once more we have an expensive giveaway at the core, a $1,000 (at least) Nikon camera, and the growing, and apparently successful practice of attempting to influence bloggers with gifts or ‘loans.’ The argument that giving 50 bloggers a high-end camera for a 12 month loan is not an attempted bribe is patently absurd (why else would MWW do it?) but that did not stop heated denials from recipients.
K. Paul Mallasch, editor of the Muncie (Indiana) Free Press, and a recipient of the MWW/Nikon giveaway, was particularly incensed by the implication that he was doing something wrong. K. Paul was so thrilled to be chosen as a Nikon recipient that he published a Q&A on his site with Tom Biro of MWW’s DialogueMedia practice about the blogola campaign. Not surprisingly, K. Paul thought the Nikon was great and MWW was populated with geniuses.
Confronted with an unyieldingly prosecutorial Strumpette, K. Paul employed the Ronn “I’m-growing-as-fast-as-I-can” Torossian defense of dismissing the accusations because the true identity of Strumpette is a mystery. “I’ll be talking to my lawyer,” was the final word of K. Paul. Apparently, he did not see the “5WPR Lawsuit Clock” on the sidebar. In a subsequent post, Joseph Jaffe, founder and president of new media consultancy crayon, posted his own defense of receiving the camera.
There is a constituency to consider when crafting these programs – the self-policing PR blogosphere that is adept at flogging any agency that dares attempt to influence bloggers with giveaways. Bloggers are a lonely lot who crave the imprimatur of credibility that can be afforded by the attention of a big agency bearing gifts. The “A-list” bloggers are more immune to this, so the B and C lists are now the targets. It’s cheap publicity that will quickly diminish in effectiveness as criticism takes its toll.
I see no discussion of the Nikon blogola imbroglio on MWW’s DialogueMedia blog authored by Tom Biro and Chris Thilk, or CEO Michael Kempner’s personal blog “MWW Straight Talk.” The MWW site is full of case studies, talk of the MWW way, all the great things they have done, blah, blah, but not a word of reaction to news of its own practices.
This is typical. Agencies have yet to understand that they are as much a part of the news as the messages they are trying to control for their clients. If MWW, Edelman, or any other agency is going to muck around in the New Media world they have to be public and responsive to credible and verifiable concerns about their campaigns. The days of the wizard behind the curtain are gone, and these issues will not simply go away by themselves.
This is a test for MWW. Will they adapt to the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ or bull ahead with the old PR modus operandi of stonewalling the critics? Maybe we’ll see it played out in this blog next week, and in the blogs that MWW/Nikon are trying to influence. Blessed be the provocateurs, for they are keeping us honest.
Mark Rose is editor of PRBlogNews - a web publication focusing on public relations practices in the digital age.
Display comments as (Linear | Threaded)
I'm new as a blog writer, but not new to the online world. I found this conversation very interesting. Particularity from your perspective, as a person who is deeply involved in the PR world.
You seem say that if a person receives a free sample of something, then their opinion is suspect. The greater the value that something has, then you are more suspect. Do I have that right? If I have it wrong, then perhaps the rest of this will be inaccurate as well.
Isn't the free sample method a very old marketing tool? I give you, a person I hope has some influence, a toy hoping you will like it and tell others about it. Isn't that why stars get bags of free stuff at the Oscars? So they will use them and tell others about them? (No need to discuss the point of them selling out.)
I wrote a book. I'm new to the author game in many respects. I give a bunch away so that the people I give them to will read them and tell others that I'm not a bad writer. I run the risk that they don't like my style. If they don't like it then they either keep quiet, or they hate it so much that they feel a need to warn others not to open my work. Are the reviews then suspect? How many of the reviewers for any major newspaper purchased those copies they reviewed? My guess would be 0.
I am posting this here rather than on any of the other sites so as not to directly enter into those exchanges. I have no dog in this. At least not directly, no one sent me a camera. I have a son who does all my photo work. He is much better at it. We bought him a D50 last year - he would love to have had a D80 by the way. Had I known about the offer I might have taken them up on it because I believe that I am an honest person. If I liked it, or he liked it, I would have said so. If I had not, I probably would have felt obligated to say that as well. (BTW - loves his D50, and we are very happy with his work, but not much has been posted so I can't show you examples.)
I hope you are enjoying your vacation. Ms. Lohan getting busted must be helping you balance the war news and your (my former) Yankees playing my Angels (unless they refuse to drop the LAA thing) to whom the pinstripers always seem to lose. I look forward to your response when you have time.
The Yankees are too depressing to think about. I was at Dodger Stadium a week ago and it was nice to see a winning team. If Paris, Lindsay, and Britney ever grow up (emotionally) my life will suffer.
I used to do book reviews for the LA Times and other pubs. I would get stacks of every book imaginable to review. The Strand, the huge bookstore in NY, is filled with reviewer copies for sale. A book has little intrinsic value. A free book you don't really like is worth less than nothing.
I don't think auto reviewers get a Mercedes SL600 Roadster on 'loan' for a year, and you don't need a $1,000 camera for 12 months to check it out. Yes, it's an old game to give freebies or an extended 'loan." Edelman's 'loan' was not simply the new Microsoft Vista operating system, it was housed in an Acer Ferrari computer.
But maybe the game has changed with the new march toward transparency and high ethical standards we counsel clients about. Maybe we should be living by those same standards, unless we are so flattered that somebody would give us an expensive gift that we throw ethics out the window.
What about all the cameras competing with the Nikon D80? Do they get a 12 month side-by-side trial in the hands of an amateur photog blogger? I think these giveaways will go away because the result will simply not be worth the criticism and aggrevation. I don't think that Joe Jaffe enhances his credibility by touting his participation in a blogola campaign. He's only reinforcing the perception that bloggers are a cheap, easily bought, unregulated source of Internet marketing. Where's the value in that - for Nikon, MWW or Jaffe?
If you checkout my May 28th blog post you will see just how much of an Angels fan I am. It's not everyone who gets to warm-up in the bullpen - before lunch!
BTW- The picture was taken by my son with his Nikon D50 which seems to work fine for him.