07 September 2007

It's not just about ethics - it's about common sense

I was pleased to find a new "blogger outreach code of ethics" from a huge PR/marketing firm this morning. Of course, this isn't the first attempt at a code of ethics from the industry. But it's nice that people in our industry finally heard what I'm now calling Stefania's shot heard 'round the PR world.

I hope that this new ethical code doesn't just become a line of defense that a firm employs once it's caught doing this wrong. (I don't think it will - I know a couple of the people who work at that firm and they strike me as honest and generally smart.) We all know the story of the other big PR firm who got bagged and then said, "we subscribe to the WOMMA code" in its defense. It's like saying "I don't approve of my own behavior." Everyone makes mistakes, but it's really hard to position yourself as a thought leader when you're breaking your own rules.

I guess what strikes me about all this is the underlying assumption that all of the "other" ethical standards and principles we employ in traditional communications somehow don't apply because the communication is done via email. The ethical code spelled out today is essentially (I hope) a re-statement of the rules we employ when reaching out to anyone anywhere, and frankly, I hope they're simply the values that guide our lives each day: transparency, relevance, respect, accommodation, and truth.

Look, the bloggers are asking for relevance and respect. If you lack truthfulness and transparency you won't get in the door. If you can't accommodate the method of contact the blogger outlines you won't get past the spam filter and the blogger won't even be aware you reached out. And if you're not respectful of people you don't know, you're not going to succeed in any field - you're probably just a jerk.

It's really all about relevance. That's what Stefania and Mrs. Kennedy and Liz and Kelly and Kristen and Julie are really talking about. You have to spend a lot of time researching the people you identify and make sure they're interested in what you have to say, and then you have to realize that it's really their discussion and you're just trying to be a part of it. You have to do a lot of reading and linking and so on. It's not particularly difficult, but it's time consuming, and in our business time is money. If you can't spend the time to be truly relevant, you get taken to the woodshed by Stefania.

And you don't belong in this business, online or offline.

The fact is the bloggers have led this discussion all along, and I'm guessing they're pretty much over it at this point. We continue to play catch up.


mothergoosemouse said...

The fact is the bloggers have led this discussion all along, and I'm guessing they're pretty much over it at this point. We continue to play catch up.

The PR professionals who are truly interested in blogger outreach will take their cues from the bloggers. We may not be PR professionals ourselves, but I'd say we know a great deal more about the medium - and in that regard, we should be treated as the experts we are.

A code of ethics is a great first step for reaching out to individual bloggers. However, considering some of the calls that Kristen and I have had on behalf of PBN, the problem extends beyond disrespect and lack of common sense.

Many PR professionals are loathe to be told by mere bloggers how they might best take advantage of the medium. They consider it an affront to their professional expertise. So they will continue to shotgun emails - even in accordance with a code of ethics - resulting in a few hits, but mostly misses. And worse, they won't succeed in starting that buzz they're after.

Susan Getgood said...

Julie is absolutely right -- "you can lead a horse to water but you canna make him drink."

The biggest problem, the show stopper, in all of this is the one I referred to in my comment on the previous post. By and large, companies, and that includes their agencies, have a real hard time understanding that nobody really cares about their products. Harsh statement I know, but generally true. Even the big brands that everyone sez carry more cachet -- even those -- are really about how they make us FEEL not what they do. Apple iphone. Isn't about phone. It's about being cool.

I'm oversimplifying but to make a point -- of course. Folks don't want to hear that bloggers (& generally customers) don't care about the features of their products that they have sweated blood over. This that or the other thing is so great, they'll definitely want to hear about it. They think.

Um nope. So when consultants, like PBN or you or me, tell them to structure a program around the bloggers, not around themselves and their web site or whatever, it is the rare few that get it.

Motherhood Uncensored said...


Interesting, however, that the firm you mention put together a focus group for a new project and in return for countless hours and conference calls, all we got was a basket of free shampoo.

I love having clean hair. But still.

abf said...

David - I liked your comments over at Jeremiah Owyang's blog and here as well. No, we didn't create the code as a line of defense. The motivation was in part internal education but, more importantly, to get feedback from fellow bloggers, particularly the ones who are being bombarded by our colleagues within the field and maybe even within our agency. (More on that later.) You're right that it should not take a code to make it clear that we should all be functioning in a way that still enables us to look in the mirror: transparently, respectfully and authentically. It's not rocket science. We all just want a little respect.

Kristen, you have been one of the bloggers who has given us feedback, both here and on the Ogilvy blog. (I posted a response, which I emailed to you as well just in case you didn't stop back.) I am sorry that we offended you with the lack of compensation and I proposed some ideas about how we should handle blogger compensation moving forward to see what you thought. There's a line that we don't want to cross which would be, in my opinion, unethical, but the suggestions hopefully get at those nuances.

Let me put them here to see what others think:

– If we engage bloggers as advisers on a specific project, we should provide them with compensation (agreed upon at the start of the project). This compensation will solely be for their time as advisers and will not include an expectation that the bloggers will write about the project – favorably or unfavorably.

– If bloggers have advertising on their blogs, we will counsel our clients to purchase advertising to reach the bloggers’ readers. We will make it clear, however, that paying for advertising does not mean that the blogger will post about the product/campaign/issue.

– If we do reach out to bloggers with news about a product/campaign or issue, we will not provide monetary compensation, so as to avoid appearing as if we are trying to “buy” a favorable review. Our colleagues that do media relations can’t pay journalists to write about their clients and it would be unethical, in our view, to do that within social media.

– If we ask a blogger to review a product and, therefore, provide them with the product to enable them to “experience” it, we will ask the blogger to be transparent and reveal that they have been told they can keep the product.

What do you think?

David said...

Hi Allison - I appreciate that you're doing this and spelling out some common-sense principles to outreach. But I want to stress that I think that's really what it is - common sense. If you have folks at your firm that would feel uncomfortable with anything you've spelled out, I'd be concerned. I'd love knowing if you think there's anything in your new code that you feel pushes the envelope or represents a change in the ethics in the industry.

I raise this because you call it an "ethical code." To me that means "right and wrong." I think your firm does a good job knowing the difference between right and wrong and staying on this side of the line. There's never a downside in saying, "we've seen some stuff going on and here's where we stand."

As for your specific points, again, I think they constitute common sense. But I'm sure you'll agree there may be times where the needs and interests of the individual blogger will be the difference. Some bloggers won't accept ads from some of our clients. Some subscribe to ad services so they don't have a ton of control over what shows up on their blog - it's silly to approach a blogger and say "we advertise on your blog" if what you've really done is contact blogads.

Bottom line - and I think you get this - you do this well when you build strong relationships. All the other stuff sort of falls into place after that.


abf said...

Sorry to disappear like that, Dave.

I agree with you that this is all common sense and even that it's what our mothers (should have) taught us: be respectful, listen, don't lie. But there's this line I once heard in response to someone saying "You're preaching to the choir." They said, "Yeah, well the choir needs to practice every once in a while."

I think our motivation for creating the code is threefold. 1) We want bloggers to know we hold ourselves to these standards and we want them to know that, if we don't, they should call us on it. 2) We want our clients to know that we have these standards and that effective social media strategies requires more than a spam blast to mom bloggers who, by the way, don't give a toss about your new pudding packs. 3) We want to make it clear to our colleagues throughout the agency that we have a way of doing things. With 60+ offices around the world and thousands of people all who can make the claim, "I work for Ogilvy PR," my team would benefit from having their colleagues know that there's a right way and a wrong way and the "Ogilvy way" should be the former.

Relationship building. It's all about relationship building. Because in the end I'm not going to judge the success of my efforts by measuring "hits." I'm going to judge it by whether my client is seen as trustworthy by the people they are trying to engage -- and whether they deserve to be seen as trustworthy.