Posted by Amanda Chapel
In an effort to clean the bribe-tainted Nikon blogola mess, Michael Kempner, CEO of Nikon's agency the MWW Group, has now personally put the program in the spin cycle.
Late last week, Kempner released a statement: "Blog Relationship Building: My Point of View." What follows is a line-by-line response to Kempner's spin. Here we show his self-serving rationalizations for what they are: PR at its worst and most ridiculous.
... And the irony of all ironies, we show that Kempner is absolutely right. Unburdened by ethics, payola ABSOLUTELY is all about building relationships.
Spin versus Real Straight Talk
KEMPNER: “We invited 50 bloggers interested in taking great pictures to try out a new camera sold by our client.”
CHAPEL: No. You gave out an actual (taxable) benefit strategically for the purposes of influence to induce sales. It’s payola by definition.
KEMPNER: “The structure of the program is almost identical to how new products are introduced to print and broadcast journalists.”
CHAPEL: No. The program is well outside the ethical guidelines set by most if not all major media today. The very reason you are doing this now with bloggers is because you'd never get away with it with mainstream media.
KEMPNER: “The rules of this sampling initiative: 1) Invite select bloggers to try out a new camera for a set period of time; 2) Bloggers who accept participation are loaned the product for a set period of time; 3) At the end of that time period the product must be returned to the company or purchased by the blogger at an editorial discount; 4) Should the product be purchased, all monies are donated to a related charity; 5) Should the blogger choose to talk about the product and its performance on their blog, or any other forum, they must also reference the sampling program, specifically that they were loaned the product, so as to guarantee transparency. Simple. Clear. Clean.”
CHAPEL: No. Kempner and the MWW Group: 1) Invited a "friends of" list of bloggers with whom they could count on reciprocity. In the words of bribe recipient Joe Jaffe, "Yes there is a degree of reciprocity, why the hell wouldn’t we want to pay for it, why wouldn't we want to give something back if someone does something nice for us?”; 2) They purposefully misuse the word "loan." A "loan" for trial purposes is short term specifically set up to cover a predetermined test. This is six months open-ended that can be converted into a year. Bottom line: This gift is a taxable benefit. 3) With regard to the users then being able to purchase the unit at a "discount," indeed, the time is such that the item will have significantly depreciated, i.e. the asset value spent. 4) With regard to giving any residual value to a charity, nonsense. There will be little if any value left; and 5) An endorsement under these circumstances, however supposedly "transparent," is still... blogola.
Kemper's "simple, clear and clean” is in reality self serving, cloudy and slippery. It's PR at its worst.
KEMPNER: "Does a sampling program carry with it an expectation of coverage, and in the extreme, an expectation of favorable coverage? Are bloggers selling out if they participate in such programs? In my opinion the answer to all those questions is 'NO.'"
CHAPEL: Mr. Kempner, who are you trying to fool? If you didn't recommend that your client do this to inspire and leverage favorable coverage in support of product sales objectives, then why on earth did you recommend it? What business are you in?
And that's the key here. Nikon's monthly fees cloud Kempner's judgment, ethical and otherwise.
KEMPNER: "Sampling programs such as ours are based on a desire for coverage, discussion, testimonials and good word-of-mouth recommendations, not an expectation of coverage. Nowhere was coverage mandated. More importantly, nowhere was favorable coverage mandated."
CHAPEL: Spin, spin, spin. Again to quote one of your more vocal program participants, Joe Jaffe, "Yes there is a degree of reciprocity, why the hell wouldn’t we want to pay for it, why wouldn't we want to give something back if someone does something nice for us?”
Mr. Kempner knows that. Payola is not "mandated." It is the result of an inherent expectation of quid pro quo.
KEMPNER: To presume otherwise is an insult to bloggers and their integrity... and frankly it's a juvenile, poorly reasoned argument cloaked in false ethics.
CHAPEL: No. To otherwise bribe bloggers is an insult to their integrity and the integrity of the market. Kempner's spin is the poorly reasoned argument cloaked in false ethics. That's what spin is. Again, see definitions above.
Frankly, it's amazing that we have to go round and round with this. The issues are pretty simple for anyone with character and a conscience. But unfortunately, in Kempner's spin cycle, we lose our balance. Up is down and down is up. Spin, spin, spin.
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just wondering what you would have done if you had the nikon account and were asked handle the public relations for this particular product?
you say this program was/is "pr at its worst" and i'm curious to know what pr" at its best" would look like.
PR at it's best: Pitch/advocate thru a 3rd party vetting mechanism. Avoid surreptitious selling.
sounds like a very light answer to a very deep issue. can you give some more detail? it sounds as if you're advocating for additional layer between the PR and the media - kind of like an arbitrage for stories...
so would that mean that i submit my story and supporting materials to the Strumpette Story-spreader and then the third party decides what stories are worthy to be submitted to the wider media?
I am not advocating another layer at all. I am saying (as has been discussed on Strumpette variously) that mainstream media is the vetting mechanism. Richard Edelman and friends completely f-ed things up by changing that dynamic. (Remember RE's now famous speech telling MSM “You’re not God anymore;” see http://tinyurl.com/3dwx7r )
Bottom line: blogola and other related WOM techniques are just surreptitious sales. We are (PR is) reduced to direct marketing. What do you think the "Picture this!" campaign is?
Well, Picture This!... mark my words, the FTC is going to regulate this crap as surely as they now have their sights on VNRs.
I am another sell out .. I just (an hour ago) opened the box on a new Nikon D80. I am no bigtime blogger. I had never heard of MWW (I thought the offer was spam at first) I post lots of pictures and maybe I am in a good geographic market but I don't see where my transparent comments on this camera will do much to hurt me with my audience and at most it may become a break even for Nikon
In your words (http://tinyurl.com/yrqts3 ), "So if you have some money or cool things for me to "test" I maybe can be had ...."
Joe... you've been had.
I won't disagree but I have "been had" before and at least this time I am smiling and not "ashamed" at all. I blog for myself so I set my own standard - which is pretty transparent.
You seem to have a great blog here and am sure it gets you lots of interest in your "personal brand" so best of luck...
Show a modicum of moral fiber. Test the camera and return it directly.
modicum of moral fiber..... hmmm
I am not an "unbiased journalist" an "independent reveiwer,' or even a "camera expert"
I see my self selected "personal mission" as a blogger to comment on what I "see / do / think" and I post lots of pictures so I use a camera.
We each define our own roles on the internet ... What is yours?
Well, Joe you appear to be just the target MWW was hoping for, i.e. someone who would take the bribe and not know it to be a bribe.
With regard to my role on the Net, "our aim is to expose hypocrisy and tell the stories the Industry trades are too afraid to tell."
Amanda, you are doing what the other PR media should be doing -- but they're not doing because either (1) they are too incompetent to write original articles, (2) they are too afraid to rock the boat by offering criticism of PR leaders, or (3) they are too busy picking fights with the PRSA. This is a great article and everyone in PR should be reading it.
Way to go, Amanda. 3 months, 6 months, a year. Come on, it's a bribe pure and simple. As for the charity, it's called the MWW Partners Non Profit Association. Even Rich Edelman would blush at these tactics.
Excellent and well rationalized, thoughtful post. MWW should stop with the Agency.com style postrationalizing and admit the program had warts. [Incidentally Jaffe was absolutely insufferable in his crowing about his free D80, shameless in his shill-ing. And he can't even take good photos ... enough to put anyone off!]