A recent post by Jeremy Zawodny, in response to a piece of PR, seems on one hand a tempest in a teapot, but actually may shed some light on the emerging ethics of PR vis-a-vis blogging:
Today a message arrived at the email@example.com address (the feedback address we publish on the Yahoo! Search blog) which started off like this:
As you may know, AOL today announced a trial for the new “AOL Hi-Q” high quality video format, allowing broadband users to access to video on demand features to watch online movie trailers, music videos and soon a selection of hundreds of classic TV titles from the Warner Bros collection. Kontiki, the leader in legal, secure peer-to-peer networking, is providing AOL with its Kontiki 5.0 grid delivery networking solution that enables the distribution of DVD-quality videos to consumers more quickly and efficiently.
It went on to include more text as well as a full copy of the press release.
Now here’s the best part. Krause Taylor Associates, the PR agency that’s spamming bloggers, also does work for a high-profile blogging company: SixApart. (Check their client list) They really ought to know better!
I wonder if the folks at SixApart can help get the message across to their PR agency: DO NOT SPAM US.
The interesting part is the argumentation raging in the post’s comments. Because Six Apart is mentioned, Anil Dash and Mena Trott both jump in, supporting Krause Taylor as a very clueful agency. Many others point out that spam is awful, and just becuase the agency knows the rules in general, they shouldn’t be left off the hook when they goof.
Barabara Krause of Kause and Taylor weighs in, and after some give and take, clarifies that Zawodny was ‘turned up’ in a search using MediaMap, a marketing tool. Zawodny is ok with being in MediaMap — he is aware that his name is there, and is open to being contacted about tools and products. Krause points out that in the entry about him the following information is included: “BEWARE! Proceed with caution when contacting this blogger.” To which Krause adds, “good advice.”
The remaining ethical questions are these:
- If you are a blogger, and you want to be informed of information pertinent to you and your research (or “beat” to use a media term), is it spam when PR flacks email you news stories? How should bloggers stipulate what they want to receive?
- Should we self-censor after a flap like this occurs, and it turns out that the inflammatory title we have created in a post is potentially damaging to others’ reputations? In this case, Jeremy did in fact alter the title of the post from “Krause Taylor Associates Spams Bloggers” to the current, more benign “PR Spam To Bloggers Continues”. Jeremy states in one of the comments on the post, “Many people seem concerned that “Krause Taylor Associates Spams Bloggers” will have negative affects on the company because it’ll show up in Google. While it’s not my “problem” I’ve changed the title to something a bit more vague. (A discussion of why I should or should not censor myself because of where Google may surface it is a discussion for later…)
In the first case, I bet that it would be very difficult to set up some means for bloggers to state — unequivocally — what they are, and are not, interested in hearing about. But we should come up with some approximation, because in general, this is this is the same approach we should take for all individuals to opt-in to marketing. (A microformat approach might be good, something wrapped around the Technorati blog tags that I set up in the right column, for example.)
The second case is very thorny. Zawodny states that the potential damage to reputation from his words is not his “problem” (what do the quotes indicate?), but obviously they become the author’s problem if they lead to damage and if they are erroneous. There are weak and strong definitions of spam, and this is clearly not spam, in either sense, from my perspective. Zawodny is open to receiving marketing email in the general case, but just gets pissed off if the stuff doesn’t interest him. Then it seems like spam (with a little “s”) to him, but that doesn’t make it Spam (with a capital “s”). So I think Jeremy did the right thing to change the title… although a quick search for the old title on Google shows that the meme that links Krause Taylor with spamming has been loosed on the world, now, and will never, never die.