Posts Tagged ‘prsa’
Over the last number of years, there’s been a great deal of discussion about disclosure in social media. In fact, the US Federal Trade Commission has had disclosure guidelines since 2000, and revised them just last year. Unfortunately, Canada hasn’t provided people working in social media with such guidelines. The federal organization responsible is the Competition Bureau, and there’s nothing directly addressing this issue yet. The Privacy Commissioner and Industry Canada also have fingers in the disclosure pie, but at this point, anyone in Canada could write about anything for pay and never tell you a thing.
Lots of bloggers I know do disclose, and many quite clearly. For example, Amy Boughner often has blog posts with disclosures like: “Disclosure: I received the OgoSport Ballooza pack from PlaSmart for this review. All opinions are my own.”
But two things I ran across by chance recently reminded me that disclosure is important no matter whether you’re a blogger getting a free set of headphones or an organization carrying out an advocacy campaign.
The first was a book excerpt in Maclean’s magazine titled “An outlaw’s vision for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.” The excerpt from an upcoming book on the museum by renowned non-fiction author Peter C. Newman and his longtime collaborator Allan Levine profiles the museum’s architect, Antoine Predock, by all accounts quite a character and a much-celebrated architect.
Because I’m a geek, I noted that the book was to be published by a company I hadn’t heard of before — Figure 1 Publishing. So I googled ‘em. Nice site, principal employees with serious publishing chops. But … a 2013 Vancouver Sun article profiling the company after its founding says:
“Figure 1 is operating under a different business model than a traditional publisher. Authors or organizations will pay the costs of production themselves and Figure 1 Publishing will look after editing, design, distribution, sales and marketing of the books they publish. Sales revenues will go to both Figure 1 and the author or organization, Nadeau said, adding the model is a hybrid between trade publishing and vanity publishing.”
So… who paid for the book? Who paid the authors? The printers?
I don’t know, because despite contacting Figure 1 several days ago, I haven’t yet received a response.
Also today I got pointed to an Upworthy video titled “No One Applauds This Woman Because They’re Too Creeped Out At Themselves To Put Their Hands Together.” The video is titled “The Secrets of Food Marketing,” and it’s a TED-style talk delivered by marketing consultant Kate Cooper. Well, actually that should be “Kate Cooper.” Because it’s actually actor Kate Miles playing a woman named Kate Cooper. And there’s no such thing as the TED-style “E-talks.” Well, there are several things called etalks, but this talk isn’t part of any series.
The following text appears if you scroll down below the video: “Original video by Catsnake Film. Full disclosure: The speaker in this video is actually an actress named Kate Miles, but the facts about produce and its marketing are 100% real. The audience is also real, and thus the looks of disgust are totally real too.” And then if you go to the Catsnake Film website, it explains further that the video was made on behalf of an organization called Compassion in World Farming.
I contacted both the film company and Compassion in World Farming to talk about the video. Catsnake Film wouldn’t comment unless I allowed them to vet this blog post. I don’t do that, so I have no comment from them. I sent questions to Compassion in World Farming by email on August 12, but haven’t heard from them yet.
There really aren’t any social-media equivalents to the communications professional associations like IABC or PRSA, which both identify a lack of disclosure as unethical in their codes of ethics. And it’s surprising to me that there is no mention of ethics at all on the website of the Association of Canadian Publishers.
In the unlikely event that anybody will offer me some sort of goodies, I’ll be sure to disclose it here. I don’t believe in not disclosing those things, and I want to know what might be influencing the way a piece of content — whether text, video, or whatever — was created.
And whether it’s a book, a blog, or a viral video, we all deserve to know just who was paying the piper.
Disclosure: A particular thanks to the folks at CIPPIC, an Ottawa organization that does superb work on Internet policy and advocacy, for their help in researching this post.
I was shocked today to get pointed to a post on the Hootsuite blog by friend Kami Huyse. The post “What is the most sought-after selfie?” looked at recent famous selfies. What galled me was this paragraph:
2014 was the year of the first billion-dollar selfie. During the 2014 Oscars, Ellen DeGeneres snapped a group selfie, rumored to be sponsored by Samsung, with the likes of Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Bradley Cooper, Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep. She then uploaded the photo to her Twitter account and ended up getting millions of retweets from people around the globe. Maurice Levy, CEO of advertising firm Publicis, said that the Oscar selfie was worth between $800 million to $1 billion to its client Samsung.
I immediately shared some inappropriate words, then I left a comment on the post. But apparently I still have more to say.
Lévy is the CEO of a gigantic conglomerate of agencies lumped together as Publicis Groupe, and he was doing a talk at the MIPTV summit in April, just after the Academy Awards. Here’s the crucial quote:
The quote: “The earned media — all the buzz which had been done around the Oscars — represents roughly a value between $800 million and a billion US dollars, because it has been mentioned all around the world, and the Samsung phone has been either mentioned or seen.”
M. Lévy has, no doubt, achieved great things. His group of companies generated $2.3 billion in revenue (US dollars) in the first quarter of 2014. Compared to me, he’s a top predator, and I’m an amoeba. So I am shocked to see a man of his stature, in his position, use a metric that has been so thoroughly discredited — Advertising Value Equivalency, or AVE.
AVEs have been around for a long time. And despite the efforts of many professional groups and individuals, they remain. Why are they problematic? I can’t state the reasons much better than this 2003 paper from the Institute for Pubic Relations. I’ll turn the paper’s objections into bullet points for brevity:
- There’s no factual basis for assuming that an “editorial” mention is equivalent to an advertisement
- The credibility of media varies from one topic and one outlet to the other. So using one “multiplier” is impossible
- AVEs only measure what APPEARS, while PR folk often work to minimize coverage or not see something appear at all. This is not measurable by AVE
- Advertisements depend on repetitive mentions to build awareness. “Earned media” cannot do the same
- Not everything is relatable to advertising. If there are no ads on the front page of a magazine, what’s the value of a cover mention?
- If a story tangentially mentions a brand or an organization, does the equivalency relate to the entire story or the portion of the story mentioning the specific brand?
In 2010, a coalition of leading communication organizations agreed upon what came to be known as the “Barcelona Principles.” Principle number five of the seven principles states: “AVEs are not the value of public relations.” Yet, according to PR News earlier this spring, the principles are not being adopted as quickly as might have been expected. Or hoped. And when you have people in the position of Maurice Lévy using these discredited and disavowed numbers, while it remains disappointing, it becomes less surprising.
The lesson for us here? I could simply and flippantly say “Don’t follow leaders.” But there’s a slightly deeper lesson here. Even if you’re working with a “top agency”, even if you’re hiring “the best” — you owe it to yourself and your business to be ready to call BS on what they tell you. Don’t simply assume they know best, that their advice should be taken. If you can’t understand the strategy, or the method of evaluation; if you can’t relate the tactics to your business goals: speak up. Ask for better.
And if you’re a communicator — find a way to help push our industry out of the bad habits that we’ve developed. We can do better. And we know how.
Get enough public relations professionals together, and you’ll inevitably hear the conversation. The one I’m thinking of starts around war stories, then moves to why the corner office folks (or the C-suite, if you’re more modern than I am) don’t listen to us, don’t take us seriously.
You know why? Because we cheapen ourselves. We do things that we shouldn’t, and we suffer the consequences.
Case. In. Point.
In California, water is a big deal. The water 18 million people in southern California use to drink, wash, and take care of their sewage arrives in their houses via a 240-mile pipeline all the way from the Colorado River. So I’d figure that the topic of water there is discussed a bit more than it is here in my city of Ottawa, where a mighty river brings all the water we need to our figurative doorstep.
The Los Angeles Times ran a story yesterday about one of the authorities which manage the water supply for 2 million folks living south of LA, the Central Basin Municipal Water District. The CBMWD apparently signed a $12,000/month contract with a consulting firm to write and place stories about them on a news site called “News Hawks Review.” The documents around this were obtained by the Times:
The selling point? That this would be indexed by Google News as a news outlet. Well, that door’s slammed shut — as of this morning, Google News has de-indexed News Hawks Review. In discussions with the LA Times, Coghlan claimed to have no editorial role with the News Hawks site. However, he was a frequent contributor to the site and was listed as a “reporter” with an affiliated “newshx.com” e-mail address.
Before I start opining, a caveat. I attempted yesterday to contact News Hawks Review, Coghlan (the company seems to not have a web site, which is curious for someone working in social media), and the CBMWD for comment and to ensure that the LA Times coverage was not inaccurate. None of those people responded to phone calls or emails. So if I’m extrapolating from incorrect information, be aware that I tried to verify the facts as reported.
There are two issues here, to my mind. The first is that what was done is, in my opinion, unethical. This was an attempt to create a simulacrum of news coverage without disclosing the financial interests.
I asked PRSA for a comment about this, and here’s what Prof. Deborah Silverman, the chair of their Ethics Board, told me by email:
“This practice is contrary to the Public Relations Society of America’s Code of Ethics, which espouses honesty and accuracy in communication, the free flow of information, and disclosure of information. The Central Basin Municipal Water District’s use of a communications firm to create “news” disguised as media coverage is a serious breach of ethical standards, and the district is operating in a manner that does little to aid the public’s decision-making process.” I’m sad to say that I also e-mailed my professional association, the International Association of Business Communicators, and nobody responded.
Did CBMWD know their communications person or people were engaged in unethical behaviour? Did they endorse it? I don’t know.
Second, this is a ridiculously ineffective use of thousands of dollars. What is the measure of success here? What opinion was changed by these innocuous stories? A youtube video accompanying the story has a whopping 101 views:
Meanwhile the documents posted by the LA Times show the communications folks for CBMWD referring to this as a “unique and innovative utilization of an internet news service to distribute actual news.”
If we as PR professionals can do no better than to use the tools at our disposal in unethical and deceptive and ineffective ways, then why SHOULD the C-suite listen to us? And if the boss thinks this is what we do, why would he or she think of us as anything other than unethical shills?
UPDATE: Thanks to the PRbuilder blog, I discovered two things. First, Ragan’s PR Daily covered this issue, and second, that the LA PRSA chapter has sent a letter to the Times calling this an “egregious breach.” I don’t think the letter’s been published in the Times yet, but the Ragan story has it.
Food giant ConAgra and its PR firm Ketchum found itself in a reheated soup recently, when an event for bloggers in which food bloggers were fed frozen dinners as a “secret surprise” went wrong. At least some of the bloggers took offense, and a retreat was hastily beaten.
The story is an interesting one, as written by Andrew Adam Newman in the New York Times. But I was most interested in the quotes by PRSA ethics expert Deborah A. Silverman.
Here’s what Newman’s story closed with:
The promotion was “unfortunate” and “struck me as being not quite where they should be in terms of honesty,” said Deborah A. Silverman, who heads the Board of Ethics and Professional Standards at the Public Relations Society of America.
In an e-mail message, Ms. Silverman added, “Ketchum has an excellent reputation for high ethical standards,” but “the social media realm (including bloggers) is new territory for public relations practitioners, and I view this as a valuable learning opportunity.”
I have some issues with this. First, Ketchum’s “excellent reputation” has at least one gigantic hole in it in the shape of Armstrong Williams. I wrote about the Armstrong Williams scandal when it happened in 2005. It stank then and it stinks now.
They’ve also been sharply criticized for their use of Video News Releases (VNRs) — criticism serious enough to cause PRSA to issue a bulletin about their ethical usage.
Second, the idea that social media and blogger relations are “new territory for public relations practitioners” is hokum and hooey.
A quick Google on blogger relations found articles from Lee Odden in 2006 and John Cass in 2007 on doing blogger relations right. Neville Hobson wrote an article for IABC’s Communication World magazine in May 2006 about blogger relations (I’m not a PRSA member, so don’t have access to their resources as I do IABC’s). I pointed to some guidelines from Cory Doctorow in 2008 on this blog.
I asked Deborah Silverman, who is a PR prof at Buffalo State in New York, if she wanted to expand on her view, and she did. Here’s her response:
“The social media realm, including bloggers, is relatively new territory for public relations practitioners, as evidenced by the large crowds who attend social media workshops. Social media have been around for only about five years. Although many practitioners may be familiar with social media, there are numerous new ethical issues that are arising; one of those is where bloggers fall within the consumer-advocate-journalist continuum. So I do believe that this situation was a learning experience for all of us. Above all, it reiterates the ethical tenet in PR that disclosure of motivations, intentions and/or sponsorship is paramount.”
First, it’s unfortunate that Silverman chose not to respond to the concerns over Ketchum. Second, I disagree with her on a number of points. First, the fact that social media training attracts crowds doesn’t necessarily mean it’s new. People still go to speechwriting workshops and speeches aren’t new; people learn to write news releases and the news release is more than a century old. And while this may be a “learning experience” for Silverman, ConAgra, and Ketchum, I think a lot of social media practitioners only learned a new way to screw up blogger outreach.
One could be charitable and say that it’s too soon to REALLY know how to do this. But it’s not true. There’s no reason to not know how to do this well, and to do it.
May have more about these issues soon.
UPPERDATE: Tonia Ries at the RealTime Report has more thoughts and references related to this story, as does the always readable Jen Zingsheim at Media Bullseye.