Thursday, June 7

Splitting Frames: The Nikon Campaign

Reading Strumpette’s take on the Nikon Camera D80 campaign, you might think it’s the end of the profession as Amanda Chapel (a pseudonym?) purports to lesson Michael Kempner, MWWGroup, on the ethics of their blogger program.

Don’t get me wrong, Chapel has a fine blog that works real hard offering a smattering of "spicy" public relations observations to lure in the willing or wicked or whatever. There is no question that Strumpette is a popular blog that reads as the polar opposite of Steve Rubel’s Micro Persuasion, one of my favorites.

This time, I don’t really agree with Chapel’s twist on the Nikon story. She claims this is blatant bribery or “blogola.” All I see is that there seems to be some rumbling from public relations professionals that maybe, just maybe, they don’t know whether the campaign is ethical or not. Ho hum.

For the most past, the blogger campaign seems to be a natural extension of “Picturetown” where Nikon gave away 200 cameras to the residents of Georgetown, S.C. ADWEEK’s Barbara Lippert recently wrote that there is “something really satisfying about basing an ad campaign on the real stuff of user-generated content. It bulks up the experience and democratizes the process, not only for picture takers, but also for the viewers.”

So why not bloggers? Eric Eggertson, who pens Common Sense PR, seems to think that it is okay.

“Should bloggers feel guilty if they end up paying the discounted price and keeping a valuable camera? Not in my book. I don’t really expect them to write negative things about the camera. What’s not to like about a top digital SLR from a top brand? There are too many settings?”

Joseph Jaffe of Jaffe Juice says “I have to tell you that in my humble opinion, this has been the best example of blogger outreach I have either experienced (first hand) or read about.” But then again, he has a camera so perhaps that doesn’t count. Or maybe it does because it is blogger outreach.

If we go back to the original definition of a bribe (money or favor given or promised in order to influence the judgment or conduct of a person in a position of trust), there still seems to be some holes in the ethical argument because MWWGroup never placed any conditions on the campaign like “you must write good things about it or send it back” or “you must use it every day.”

Nope. Other than asking the bloggers to include a campaign disclosure if they write a product review, which seems to be the opposite of a bribe, I don’t see any conditions that may influence these bloggers. In fact, it almost seems to me that the threat of making them appear influenced has a greater chance of skewing their objectivity. But that requires a different term all together.

Chapel says I underestimate the true dynamics of the issue. Not really. It seems to me the true dynamics of the issue is not being discussed enough. Public relations firms are being put in an unfair position: they are ridiculed for ignoring bloggers and chastised for inviting them to review products at the same time.

Fair reviews don’t just come from publications with product purchase budgets nor do they come from bloggers with deep purses. Fair reviews come from people who are true to themselves, whether or not they are invited to the opening, asked to take a test drive, or given a loaner.

Any other position is unfair to the reviewer as it attempts to guess their motivation at best and insults their ability to be objective at worst. Any other twisted facts on this issue would force us to conclude that we are all somehow unethical for sampling a cheese square at the local grocery store.

After 15 years of straddling the fence between public relations and journalism (five of those years editing a trade publication for concierges who ask similar questions), the best measure remains with the writer’s own sense of ethics. Better advice might be to resist the urge to name call, especially my readers, as it almost always erodes the name caller's credibility.

Ergo, MWWGroup has done a fine job wading into the waters of social media. While the Nikon campaign might be improved upon, there are virtually no details that deserve mention. They may even be given kudos for the experiment, especially because they tried so hard (maybe overly so) to remain above board.


Wednesday, June 6

Celebrating Jericho: Season Two

Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment, is all about making history. She has so many times that it's almost a crime to pick just three.

She sparked the biggest fan protest in history with the cancellation of Jericho. She received more nuts than any television executive in history. And she had the pleasure of announcing the biggest cancellation reversal in history. Not bad for a few weeks work.

Addressing the fans of Jericho at 5:08 p.m., Nina Tassler officially announced "Wow! Over the past few weeks you have put forth an impressive and probably unprecedented display of passion in support of a prime time television series. You got our attention; your emails and collective voice have been heard."

Jericho will be back mid-season next year with seven new episodes.
In the interim, CBS is working on several initiatives to help introduce the show to new audiences:

• Re-broadcasting “Jericho” on CBS (this summer)
• Streaming online episodes and clips (online)
• Releasing the first season to DVD on Sept. 25
• Continuing the story of Jericho in digital media

"On behalf of everyone at CBS, thank you for expressing your support of “Jericho” in such an extraordinary manner. Your protest was creative, sustained and very thoughtful and respectful in tone. You made a difference," Tassler went on to say. But the best line of all, in our opinion, was found in the postscript of the post.

P.S. Please stop sending us nuts

Check back for the post show this weekend. Or stay on anyway. :)


Advertising Jericho: YouTube

As the Los Angeles Times and hundreds of publications scramble for confirmation that the rumors originally broken by TV Guide are true — CBS will give Jericho fans a season two in the form of an eight-episode run mid-season — we can't help but to look at some side bar social media stories, three of which are on YouTube.

Cast Campaigns. Actors Richard Speight, Bob Stephenson, and Brad Beyer took to YouTube to thank Jericho fans and prove they know how to spell "N ... U ... T ... S" while boosting the fan campaign by playing the Peanuts theme.

Fan Advertising. One fan, going by the handle "RubberPoultry," produced a Jericho Season 2 promo that jazzes up the fan base, but then reminds people that Jericho won't be back unless they do something about it.

YouTube Documentaries. While it might be a little long in the tooth at four minutes, the "Nuts!! to CBS Delivery Collection" captures some of the emotion behind the message boards. We can forgive the length, mostly because of the dubbed WWII movie segment starting at 2:54. Funny stuff.

There are dozens more, but these three are among our favorites. They represent a shift in video communication created by social media. It's the very reason public relations professionals need to brush up on some new skill sets.

Jericho fans dazzled us by filling forums, bolstering stories, signing petitions, making videos, getting press attention, shaming entertainment writers who said it could not be done, and, of course, shipping off 40,000 pounds of nuts. Sure, today it is CBS, but tomorrow it might be your company that finds itself dealing with a new brand of crisis communication.

Social media has turned passive viewers into active consumers, given cast members the ability to address fans direct, and proven that no one should underestimate a dedicated group of individuals who happen upon the least likely, but amazingly effective, message ... NUTS!

We look forward to reading the official "resurrection" announcement from CBS before providing a post-show wrap up. If Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment, needs any inspiration, she can find it scripted for her back at the bottom of our May 26 post. We won't even send a bill.


Tuesday, June 5

Bribing Bloggers: Ragan's Grapevine

Michael Sebastian, writing for Ragan's Grapevine, resurrected Amanda Chapel's comments on camera-maker Nikon's "loaning" 50 bloggers a pricey new camera for 12 months. In Chapel's piece last week, she notes that that "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."

Given this, the general theory is that companies are attempting to curry favor with "b" and "c" list bloggers, offering loans, gifts and payments for favorable reviews. The downside for a blogger is that when they accept a gift or loan, they take a departure from the world of journalism. Hmmm ... maybe.

Last December, I wrote a less than flattering piece on PayPerPost, just hours prior to a terms of service change that required bloggers to disclose that they were being paid for their reviews. Had the post been penned after the change, my take on it would have been different.

In such instances, disclosure can make all the difference (though I don't recommend turning every editorial post into an advertorial post or you'll likely lose your readers). The same can be said about the Nikon camera campaign. Any ethical breach is not in the loan of a camera, but rather in the blogger's willingness to be swayed by the loan or if the loan is conditional on a favorable review or frequency of a product mention.

It all comes down to the blogger (or reporter for that matter) asking themselves if they can remain objective despite whatever offer is on the table, Nikon camera "loan" or not. Only the blogger can answer that question. Because, in general, if we attempt to guess the ethics of others, we only demonstrate our own lapse in understanding ethics.

Journalists, reviewers and critics in particular, have always received new products and beta programs (or attended openings) so they could write editorial. The reward for remaining objective is simply a matter of preserving their own credibility as a reviewer. To do the same, bloggers only need to appreciate that credibility is their most valuable asset as well.

So while I agree with Sebastian and Chapel that skewing reviews for favors is unethical, bloggers without journalism or public relations backgrounds only need a reminder now and again that the best editorial is not for sale. Likewise, just because someone sends you something, it doesn't mean you are obligated to write about it.

In closing, I might also add that Ragan entered the social media scene in force. Ragan's Grapevine has been a great addition to communication blogging and its new social network is one of three social networks I think are worth checking out (I'm still wading the waters). The other two are and

I'm hoping to share why I think so sometime next week. And given the topic of this post, I might add that I wasn't paid to say that. Grin.


Monday, June 4

Inking Deals: News Corporation / NBC Universal

While CBS seeems to have slowed under the sheer weight of nuts sent by fans over the cancellation of Jericho, News Corporation and NBC Universal are speeding ahead with the addition of FUEL TV, Oxygen, SPEED, Sundance Channel, and TV Guide as content partners committed to bring programming to Web video consumers. The new deal was announced last Wednesday.

"Each of our new content partners have a reputation for creating premium entertainment experiences designed to fulfill television viewers' more eclectic needs," said George Kliavkoff, chief digital officer, NBC Universal and interim CEO of the joint venture. "We are delighted they have all agreed to contribute their compelling content to our venture, which will help ensure our ability to satisfy the more personalized demands of the growing number of Web video consumers."

Their plans are smart, very smart. FUEL TV and SPEED will distribute both partners' short-form content across the distribution network and host their programming on its destination site. The venture's distribution network currently consists of AOL, MSN, MySpace, Yahoo, Comcast, and CNET. The strategy seems a stark contrast to Joost, which looks great, but has come under increasing criticism that it is the slow road to developing Web television.

According to, Joost has been further slowed by Viacom Inc.'s billion-dollar lawsuit with Google Inc. for "not doing enough to prevent copyright-protected content."

The slowdown was also made apparent a few weeks ago, when the new chief Internet strategist at CBS Corp. quipped to the Wall Street Journal that the network's ambitious Innertube project launched in 2006 should be renamed "" (Ironically, one of Innertube's most watched shows was Jericho and those fans aren't likely to come back until CBS gives the series another shot.)

The lesson to be learned practically flies out of the pages of Laurence Haughton's book, as recently summed at Recruiting Bloggers, "speed is the ultimate customer turn on." Don't obsess about perfection. Good enough is good enough.

Speed seems to be on the side of News Corporation and NBC Universal with their plans to feature thousands of hours of full-length TV programming, clips and movies, representing premium content from close to 20 networks and television and film studios. With the addition of CNET and Comcast, the new venture will include E!, Style, G4, Versus, and Golf Channel. The joint venture, NBCU/News Corp., will have offices in Los Angeles and New York.

We first alluded to some major changes in television back in August 2006. Now, in a little less than a year, the entire entertainment landscape is gearing up for major changes. When you add better content to the new technology due out this year, devices that allow people to watch programming whenever and wherever they want, it seems to me that TV will never be the same.

As NBC Universal's Beth Comstock said in April: “If you have great content … you’re always going to find distribution platforms.“ Of course, that assumes you don't cancel content people want.


Sunday, June 3

Firing Punchlines: Wal-Mart

If Julie Roehm thinks she has a wrongful termination suit after, er, allegedly breaching ethics policies, then David Noordewier, a former Wal-Mart cashier in Michigan, might get in line. He was fired for joking on his MySpace page that "the average IQ would increase if a bomb were dropped on the company's stores."

According to The Flint Journal, his bosses at the Shelby Township Wal-Mart store in Michigan weren't laughing. Noordewier said he was called into the office as soon as he arrived at work. Officials had him sign an acknowledgment that he was fired for "gross misconduct - integrity issue," which the company described as "theft, violent act, dishonesty or misappropriation of company assets," none of which Noordewier believes fits his situation.

The story says Wal-Mart spokesperson Kory Lundberg would not discuss the incident except to confirm he no longer works for Wal-Mart. Noordewier had a near-perfect attendance and exemplary customer service record, which included customer compliments. Unemployment officials now say Noordewier did not qualify for benefits because he had made a threat.

It seems to me that corporate might consider stepping in on this erroneous local decision. Firing employees for a single MySpace joke (though it might be ill-advised to use the word "bomb" and "employer" in the same sentence nowadays) is a blatant overreaction. The Shelby Township Wal-Mart store manager would have been better off talking to Noordewier rather than taking action.

Besides, this comes at the worst possible time while Wal-Mart is still attempting to perform damage control on its apparent appetite for snooping on, well, everybody. Its heavy-handed surveillance tactics were brought to light during the ongoing battle with Roehm.

Lately, it seems the only good public relations news for Wal-Mart is that Minnesota businessman Irwin Jacobs is suing Roehm. Jacobs, who owns a company that supplies Wal-Mart, says former Wal-Mart executive Roehm defamed him when she published statements about the relationship between his company and her former employer.

The new lawsuit comes after Roehm's ill-advised attempt to exonerate herself of ethical breaches by accusing other executives at the #1 retailer of ignoring company ethics policy too. Now that's a punchline.


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