Blogola reared its grinning ugly face in a big way last week and I am still pissed off about Michael Kempner’s barnyard defense of his firm’s blogola campaign. I speak as a blogger on this issue. I am offended by Kempner’s stance. All bloggers should be. Blogola disrespects bloggers and solidifies public perception that we are easily bought, third-tier amateur hacks. As long as Kempner and his ilk are allowed to get away with cheap blog payoffs, that perception is reality.
Kempner is CEO of MWW, a mid-size PR firm (they don’t release billings to O’Dwyer’s). On his blog he defends his firm’s program to give 50 bloggers Nikon D80 cameras for 6 – 12 months, with the right to purchase at a discount at the end. This is standard practice at major media, said Kempner (wrong), and it showed that they treated bloggers as journalists (really, really wrong). Critics of the program are jealous, self-serving and personally destructive, said Kempner. For background see Strumpette Kempner Puts Blog Program In Spin Cycle, and PRBlogNews Kempner Swallows Blogola Whole …
You wonder how the head of a mid-size PR agency can be so clueless about media relations and blogger relations but there it is. “Staff members who borrow equipment, vehicles or other goods for evaluation or review must return the borrowed items as soon as possible,” says the ethic guidelines of The New York Times. Those of us who deal with mainstream media know how sensitive they are to even the appearance of a gift that might sway their judgment.
“Here, take this $1,000 camera for a year and then you can keep it for $100” – try that line on David Pogue at The New York Times and see if he ever talks to you again.
That leaves Kempner and crew to troll for willing victims in the bottom rungs of blogdom. They did a great job of finding 50 who were just ga-ga over getting this wonderful camera to play with for a year. “I was a little surprised to be picked for this - I actually thought it was spam at first,” posted Joe Moraca on his Sarasota Livin’ blog, about receiving his $1,000 camera in the mail. B.L. Ochman was so thrilled about getting her camera that she did an interview with her benefactors, the team at MWW managing the blogola program.
Joe Jaffee, president of ‘new marketing’ company crayon, in his Thank you Nikon post was similarly exultant and disbelieving that he had been chosen for this great honor. Do we need any more proof that bloggers crave validation from established power and are willing whores for expensive swag? Do we have to look further to see why bloggers are dismissed by mainstream media and the general public as questionable sources of news or opinion?
Kempner was right when he said that his blogola program was: “Simple. Clear. Clean. So clean in fact that 46 of the 50 bloggers we invited to participate immediately accepted. Of the remaining four, two haven’t had a chance to decide yet and two declined as they were engaged by other PR firms and felt it would be a conflict.”
Easy pickins’, those bloggers. What should bloggers ensnared in the MWW blogola trap do? Have a personal set of ethical guidelines and be vigilant against PR payola. Check the camera out, record your opinions on your blogs, return the camera to MWW within 30 days (or a reasonable period). Don’t accept the MWW poison gift. Don’t let Michael Kempner and crew disrespect you, and the rest of us, with blogola. Don’t be blinded by the swag. Not all of us are jealous. Some of us think this whole thing is pretty pathetic.
Blogging about this by Nikon D80 blogola recipients has been sparse and defensive. The program is tainted and demeans bloggers and the product. Maybe if MWW is delivered that message through returned cameras we will see a little more understanding in Michael Kempner’s public communication about influencing bloggers.
Mark Rose is editor of PRBlogNews - a web publication focusing on public relations practices in the digital age.
By way of introduction, the "Top Web Marketer" in our headline is Joe Jaffe. Joe happens to be the real deal. He's Founder and President of the new media mashup consultancy, Crayon. He’s a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School. He’s a renowned consultant and sought-after speaker with this whole “conversational marketing” thing. Bottom line: he’s the genuine article, a passionate and true voice in New Media. Let’s put it this way, he's a diamond in the rough of all the knuckleheads that compose the bloggererati.
That said ironically, in this case, it also happens that he's does a fine job of articulating why they're all wrong. In defending the MWW-Nikon D80 Blogger Campaign yesterday, he inadvertently made a rather strong case against blogola. Yikes! Exactly the opposite of what he had hoped to accomplish, I'm afraid.
Bottom line: For marketers to influence the blogosphere, they absolutely need to “incentify” and bond with this amorphous metaverse. Blogola is an important strategy. Actually, Web Marketers are not going to give this one up without a fight. If they lose this... so also likely goes the business case for Web Marketing, period.
Below are excerpts of a podcast done by Joe for "Across the Sound." We tried to boil it down to key quotes. Unfortunately, "it’s a loaner but I’ll be damned if I give it back” and “not many strings attached,” etc., ended up on our cutting room floor.
Now, one more moment before we get to Joe's comments. Here are a few quick definitions for reference:
Whore: A person considered as having compromised principles for personal gain.
Bribe: 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.
Blogola: The bribing of Web bloggers, to promote product coverage and various other related social-media "conversations".
Campaign: An operation or series of operations energetically pursued to accomplish a purpose: an advertising campaign for a new product.
KEY QUOTES: Jeff Jaffe on the Nikon Blogger Campaign
Audio Clip #1
“I took a position to maybe go a little bit over the top to talk it up a little more."
"I chose to talk it up... I want others to be aware of these campaigns and marketers to be encouraged to invest in these campaigns.”
“No matter what this cost to Nikon, it is money well spent in terms of the opportunity costs... the relative comparison of being able to buy just one print ad that murders an innocent tree.”
“Now they’re putting their product where our mouths are so to speak and tapping into influencers.”
Audio Clip #2
“I think it’s a really successful campaign! I love how they’ve tapped into the blogosphere and the influencers.”
"I do not believe that this is manipulation"
“If there is a reciprocity or a quid pro quo or tacit understanding of wanting to pay them back for their kindness, that’s a different conversation and I don’t know if it’s manipulation.”
Audio Clip #3
“I think I’ve done more than enough to justify their investment based on the fact that I’m talking about it.”
Audio Clip #4
“The only reason why I am talking it up a little bit more is because if I didn’t, many of you wouldn’t even know about this program.”
“The idea is not to create a big splash but to plant a bunch of seeds and nurture that and see what comes up.”
“I am overdoing it a little bit just so I can create that conversation.”
“There are many bloggers especially the A-Lister bloggers that would actually do the opposite of what I am saying; they would actually keep quiet, they will deliberately keep quiet based on the fact that they don’t want to be seen as selling out.”
Audio Clip #5
“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?”
Excuse me... as you are someone who accepted the MWW-Nikon “bribe;” one who fully and enthusiastically participates in their program; and one who advocates similar programs as a part of his own business and livelihood... I totally understand.
Fact is most reporters, e.g. NYT, WSJ, BusinessWeek, Forbes, etc. , can't even accept a free lunch anymore because of new ethics guidelines. The era of wining, dining and bribing reporters is long over. So the PR industry has now leveled its sites on the horde of unprofessional bloggers; And you are their enthusiastic champion.
Anyway, selling out is nothing new. What ever the medium, this stuff is always in the end ferreted out. Sorry but, no matter how you try to spin it Joe, this kind of shit will NEVER escape the taint of the perception of impropriety. It just won’t. It's dirty.
On Thursday, March 8, 2007 at 7:41 AM, Ronn Torossian, President and CEO of 5WPR, emphatically promised that he was going to sue us. No real reason, he was just irritated by our teasing him about getting in bed with pornographer Joe Francis. Anyway, Ronn gave his obscenity-laced word that we'd see the complaint in 72 hours. It's now late by
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