After CNW Group asked a few Canadian PR bloggers to put ads on their blogs, the bloggers started a discussion amongst themselves about the ethics of it all. I’ve been watching it from the sidelines. Here is my perspective.
On a personal blog it is an individual decision. If your employer knows about it and let’s you have income from those types of “other sources” and you don’t mind ads on your blog, why not?
Does an ad on a personal blog automatically mean that this company is a preferred supplier for the agency the blogger works for? I don’t think so. At High Road we leave this specific type of vendor decision (based on factors like value, price for reach and quality of service/support) up to the individual account managers or client preference.
Do I respect PR bloggers with ads less or more than others? No. Respect and credibility still depend on the content of the blog post. I am also willing to give any PR blogger the initial benefit of doubt that they are able to a) be transparent and b) separate the advertising and editorial sides. If you are in PR and work with publications every day, the differentiation should be a no-brainer. And if you actually endorse the company that’s advertising on your blog or in a comment (like Michael OCC did here), that is okay, too, in my books. It comes down to credibility, transparency and trust. Maybe I am wrong but I think I’d be able to see through a fake endorsement. If Michael has genuinely had a good experience with the service and/or the company, why not endorse it? Blogs are biased. The great thing is that I can comment on his blog and give him a mouthful if I disagree.
I’d be interested to get an update from CNW and/or the participants on whether or not the campaign was a success in terms of click-throughs. One question I have is how much of an influence these debate postings have on the campaign? How many people only clicked on the ad because they read one of the disclosure or debate postings? Frankly, I might not have noticed (or cared about) the banners without the blogging debate about whether or not to have an ad. Again, I found this debate interesting because it was new to us here. But – for a successful campaign on a PR blog -is it necessary to come up with a debate/dispute in the content section to promote the ad?
As for CNW Group, I say good on them. They are trying. You’ll never please everyone. But when it comes to social media we are all still in a glass house, and there is plenty of room for CNW to join us…
What I would have liked to see with this campaign is more relevancy towards digital marketing and social media. I am not saying every blog ad campaign has to be about blogging. In Ed Lee’s comment section CNW’s Laurie Smith says:
“Our goal is simple: to better showcase our expanding services to the people who matter most to us – wherever they may be.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean services relevant to social media and blogging. But it would be an advantage if you are targetting PR bloggers, especially if CNW believes that understanding blogs and social media is a differentiator versus competitor CCN Matthews (I am guessing that’s partly the intent).
Again, the slogan “are you a player” didn’t make me click, David Jones’ blog posting about him putting the banner on his blog did. So I’d say to Laurie: mission accomplished – kind of sort of.
I might have clicked without “indirect encouragement” if the ad would have told me that CNW offers something that helps me survive in this new world of PR, for example podcasting services and a podcasting portal. Okay, I knew about podcasting already. But only because CNW came for a visit to High Road Communications recently. I don’t know if those capablities are widely known within the PR and Corp Comm community already, and – at least at High Road – we keep doing more and more on the podcast front for clients.
Or what about CNW’s “multimedia news releases“? In 2004 they were already half-way to a social media press release – the 2006 hypephrase of choice for PR bloggers. A couple tweaks of how the content is presented, linked through and tracked, and this could have been made into a social media press release offering-plus-ad-campaign.
Or, if MediaVantage is the key offering for the ad campaign, I would have liked to find out more about blog monitoring within this service (I don’t use MediaVantage so I don’t know if it has this feature; but it might have made me play the game for a free trial).
Or how about creating and advertising a free Web app that provides keyword-based custom RSS feeds for content posted on CNW’s site? Right now there are already feeds for ALL releases in English and French. That’s a lot of news in one feed. But if I could create one that only shows me releases of software companies in Canada, that would be neat. And if I saw a banner for this service on Dave Jones’ blog, I’d click it and add the custom feed to my Live.com feeds. And I’d be impressed by CNW.
So, all in all a good start. Keep going, CNW. And when will we see CCN Matthews ads?
Finally, from the PR blogger perspective, this whole debate has been one big transparency and ethics lovefest. But from now on, just do it. Or not. Ads or no ads, I will still read you as long as you are transparent and your content doesn’t suck.