Thursday, December 16, 2004

Corporate Blogging and Honesty

Recently, I wrote about The NewsMarket's new blog, NewsBluntly, and Plesser and Associates involvment in the project. My post on the situation was that while it's inevitable that more and more public relations firms are going to become involved in corporate blogging, it might not be the best of things.

Steve Rubel of Micropersuasion also wrote about the debut of NewsBluntly, and then on the issues that handing off NewsBluntly to the PR firm could raise. Steve's post concurrently ran on Webpronews.

The next day ... it got fun. Nicole Erazo - the AE / manager from Plesser - had written in, and pointed out some misconceptions she believed I had, and thus begun a dialogue on her point-of-view versus my point-of-view. Well, actually it was worse than that - accusations of image manipulation, and the such - but the blogosphere can be a cold mistress to people first jumping into it.

Then Mediapost picked up the news, and represented the launch of NewsBluntly as indicative of how the "murky world of blog-related marketing got a bit murkier." The article was picked up by Rafat Ali's Paid Content, as well as profiled in SiliconValleyWatcher.

SVW took a bit of a harder
stance than Mediapost did, but both had this issue: that NewsBluntly is being published by The NewsMarket, and that while the blog notes it ... there seems to be too much of a commercial push-to-action with the blog. As you can see on NewsBluntly, the left-hand column is for news producers to download b-roll and video news releases (VNRs) from ... The NewsMarket.

Now, let's be honest. VNRs are nothing new. It's a mainstay in public relations, and I actually just pitched a VNR/SMT strategy for a potential client. And, most likely, I would use The NewsMarket to distribute.

As I had been planning a follow-up of my original post, I called up Plesser and spoke with Nicole, who forwarded me to Andy Plesser. Nice guy, gave great background on Plesser and its past with newsletters.

Yep, in the past, Plesser has put together sponsored newsletters for clients. They published them, hiring beat or trade press reporters to pull together copy and content. It's a simple, yet genius, strategy: get news out to the client's customers and other industry influencers, in a timely and intereting newsletter that speaks of bigger industry issues. And, the client wins because they are the sponsor of the newsletter.

Plesser took that past experience, and brought it into the new medium of blogging. It's migrating the corporate newsletter and publishing - in this instance, creating and managing - to corporate-sponsored blogs.

Now, here's the irony: Plesser and The NewsMarket got burned for being honest.

Stop and think about that one - Plesser and The NewsMarket could have gone the guerilla route, never noting that the blog is published by Plesser for The NewsMarket. The NewsMarket started the blog for the same reason a lot of blogs are out there: name recognition. They provide information, the posts, as well as other content, the VNRs.

They took the high-road, and were pretty upfront about it, giving full disclosure. And, that was the wrong move, if we're reading the reactions.

Andy told me that the bloggers for NewsBluntly are news producers who took their psuedonyms from Broadcast News. It's two guys (?) presenting an insider's view of TV journalism, and are able to post on such topics.

Andy had some great points for one of my questions: Do you think that there needs to be more transparency between PR and blogs?
Blogging is controverial when there is a commerical element involved. NewsBluntly is a quality product which will prove its worth by being current, insightful and useful. While there is a fundamental controversy for blogs being used for commercial purposes, we are happy to address and debate the issues. The most important thing is to be transparent, and we have been with NewsBluntly.

It is the sneaky / guerilla marketing blogging that is going to be destructive and diminish the value of blogs. It's the same thing that happened to listservs. Accountability is important - not just in PR but in blogging - and if a company is going to be covert, it's a high-risk game for their brands and the whole blogosphere.

Being upfront and honest is the way to go.

I still feel that outsourcing a corporate blog somewhat defeats the purpose of a corporate blog, and stand by my original post. A corporate blog is supposed to reflect the internal personality of the corporation, to give outsiders a feel for the company. If it's a corporate blog outsourced, well, it becomes tainted.

But, NewsBluntly really isn't a corporate blog - it's a sponsored blog, and therein lies the twist.

Post a Comment