Why can Leo Laporte and Disney do it, but Mike Arrington and TechCrunch can’t?

Tonight I was driving home from a family party with Patrick. We were listening to KGO Radio. AM-810. It’s the best rated talk station in the San Francisco area (and is among the best rated station in the world). Its signal can be heard from Alaska to Mexico. The show we were listening to was Bill Wattenburg.

Two ads on KGO caught my ear. The first was an ad for Pat Vitucci and AIG, here’s a list of some of KGO’s advertisers. It was read live by Bill Wattenburg. He endorsed Pat’s seminar.

The second was by Leo Laporte, who came on and endorsed GoToMyPC in his own voice.

I’ve heard Leo endorse other products on KGO recently too in advertisements, including a security dongle (Kevin Mitnick also did such an endorsement).

KGO Radio is owned by Disney Corporation.

These two examples of advertisements are FAR further along the endorsement line than what was done by Federated Media. The ads that caused the TechMeme outcry were NOT endorsements at all, but were just bloggers talking about an advertising slogan and even then weren’t told what to say.

But the ads on KGO radio go FAR further. Most of the ads that hosts on KGO read are from a script. It’s pretty clear that the company is paying those ad readers to say specific things.

Now, I know Leo is pretty high integrity guy. I doubt he’d do an ad for a product he really hated, but would he really endorse GoToMyPC if he weren’t being paid? Might he endorse a different technique? Or teach people how to do such a thing without a commercial product? I’ve listened to Leo a lot (I used to help run his chat room back when he was a host himself on KGO radio back in the mid 1990s) and I could see him teaching people how to do it themselves without buying a third-party product to let you remotely access your files.

One thing, though, all these ads are totally disclosed. It’s very clear they are paid advertisements and are separate from the editorial copy. It’s very clear that Leo is getting paid to take these editorial stances.

But, still, why isn’t everyone yelling and screaming about these kinds of ads on professional media (this is one of the world’s top radio stations, owned by a huge multi-national corporation)?

Here’s why? Beating up on Disney won’t get you any links. Won’t get you on TechMeme. Won’t insert you into a conversation. Won’t build your traffic.

In fact, Leo is so popular and credible that beating up on him might cause a major blowback the way that beating up on Macs usually gets you hundreds of angry commenters (ask John Dvorak about that one).

Now you know why Valleywag is still pushing this story front and center (even Larry Page, cofounder of Google, arriving at FooCamp in a helicopter couldn’t push this story off of the front page over there).

Translation: there’s lots of professional endorsing that’s been going on for years (this isn’t new). As long as it’s disclosed I don’t see the problem with it.

On the other hand, Jeff Jarvis has a major problem with these kinds of advertisements. I respect Jeff’s stance but don’t think Jeff’s stance will be followed by everyone.

For me, I will disclose when I’m doing stuff for money. I’m not going to be as pure as Jeff Jarvis is, sorry, but when I’m not I’ll let you know so you can make up your own mind about what I’m saying.

UPDATE: Leo Laporte explained why he does radio endorsements in my comments and that he won’t endorse a product that he doesn’t already use (and has turned down requests for endorsements from other companies because of that). I believe him when he says this, too, because I’ve seen him turn down advertising and sponsorship opportunities.

If you are going to sell your soul…

There’s another blogstorm about a new style of conversational advertising.

Let’s back up a second. First, I wasn’t approached for this advertising campaign. I’ve done similar ones, though, for Intel. Why didn’t I get called out? Cause I pointed out that I was doing such and what I was getting in return here on my blog. From what I can tell the first time we learned about this advertising campaign wasn’t from the bloggers themselves, but from Valleywag.

So, first rule of avoiding bad PR for taking money is DISCLOSE, DISCLOSE, DISCLOSE!

I personally didn’t have a problem with the campaign itself although I thought it was pretty lame. Last night when the campaign disappeared I saw the story change, though. That was a tacit admission that something was smelly with this campaign. It was getting negative commentary therefor it must be pulled. Whoever did that made a mistake.

Why do companies try to do this kind of advertising? Because of a few reasons:

1) Bloggers start conversations. If you want a conversation to get started in the world, one big way is to get bloggers to talk about you. I’m looking at my emails and I have more than 1,000 pitches from PR people all over the world who are HOPING I’ll write about them, their company’s products, or their news. Almost everything you see on TechMeme started as one of these press releases.
2) Bloggers are credible. Credible enough, at least, to start conversations and accelerate those conversations through the world. Recently a CEO told me that because he was on my show he got on Fox News because a Fox News producer was watching my show, liked what he had to say, and invited him onto Fox News. He said that really gave them a major shot in the arm. He’s been telling all his CEO friends that they should also get on my show. So now I’m getting nailed by even more PR firms.
3) Bloggers increasingly have influence. Almost everyone I know reads TechCrunch, or GigaOm, or Valleywag. How do I know that? Because at dinner parties, or whenever I meet geeks they bring stuff up that was discussed on TechCrunch. When Valleywag printed that I was looking for a job tons of people started emailing me (totally fabricated, which is why I generally don’t believe much I read on Valleywag), or Twittering me about whether or not I really was looking for a job. Companies are paying attention to that too and are trying to figure out how to get into these influence networks.
4) The professional journalists are moving in. Look at TechMeme on the average day. I usually see more “professional” “big brand” journalism names there than people who came through the blogging ranks like Mike Arrington or Peter Rojas. We’re all competing for the same advertising dollars now, and some are going hungry and, so, the pressure to do things “to pay payroll” is increasingly to sell your credibility.
5) Advertisers know banners don’t work as well as text. Heck, Google got to be the #1 brand and half as big as Microsoft by understanding that. If I did have advertising on my blog I know that the content stream is FAR more valuable than anything I put over in the navigation part of my blog. So, if advertisers come to me they increasingly are wanting to get access to my content stream.
6) Increasingly bloggers’ recommendations DO sell product. I’ve seen this over and over in my own life as people come up to me and tell me “I bought XYZ because you wrote about it.” Or “I tried that Web service because you said it was cool.” So, increasingly advertisers want their brands to be mentioned by, or associated in some way with bloggers. ScobleShow’s sponsor, Seagate, is very happy because it is associated with me. That increasingly gets them mentioned at conferences, gets them included in conversations, and at the recent CES got them in touch with far more other bloggers (and professional journalists) than they would have hadn’t had an association with a blogger.

So, anyway, there’s a lot of pressure on bloggers to put their names on advertising. This pressure has been there for years. After all, Microsoft hired me back in 2003. They saw the value of having a blogger associated with their brand way back then (and tons of companies have followed).

If this pressure is going to be there (it will), then what can bloggers do?

1) Disclose, disclose, disclose, and disclose some more. If even there’s a PERCEPTION that money is changing hands, gotta disclose. Valleywag keeps nagging me everytime I write about Adobe cause Adobe paid PodTech some small amount of money to do some podcasts a year ago. I gave them power over me by not being ultra clean and making sure everyone understood what PodTech was getting paid for and what I was getting paid for. I assumed that since that wasn’t paid to get influence over me, it didn’t need to be disclosed. It really did. That way my readers can figure out for themselves whether or not my writing is biased.
2) Make it very clear what is advertising speech and what is not. This is why I don’t like PayPerPost and other advertising schemes that get bloggers to talk. If you write something you’re getting paid to write it should have the word “ADVERTISEMENT” in the headline. If you don’t do that, well, then prepare to get thrown under the Valleywag bus.
3) Disclose EVERYTHING you’re getting paid for. Even if it isn’t on your blog. This is what gave this story some power. Dave Winer writes that he didn’t know about this practice.

Any other rules for selling your soul? I know some people say “don’t sell your soul in the first place.” Well, that doesn’t work either, at least for those of us who aren’t independently wealthy and increasingly it’s difficult to not take the money. I know some bloggers who have half the audience size I do that are getting paid $8,000 a month for advertising on his blog. Bloggers share those kinds of stories all the time. It’s incredibly difficult to turn down $8,000 a month, or even $2,000. All advertising is “selling your soul” at some level. Advertisers are buying advertising to get access to your audiences. If you don’t have an audience you don’t have to worry about this, but if you blog increasingly you’ll have to face this at some time or another. Even a free phone, or a free laptop is really advertising. Disclose that, too. Let your readers know your conflicts of interest.

I even disclose when I sell stock, or when I am going to own stock (I still own my Microsoft stock, for instance). Why? Because that’s a potential conflict of interest. If Valleywag ever finds out you own stock and you’re a blogger with a big enough audience expect to get thrown under the bus for that too. Why? Cause everytime Valleywag finds something that they can poke you with they get traffic. Hint, you are making Nick Denton richer everytime you give him something to say about you.

As for advertisers, come to PodTech and I’ll consult with you about how to get conversations started in the blogosphere without getting bloggers to sell their souls. There’s lots of ways to do that, but they require a bit more work on your behalf than the Microsoft “people ready” campaign did. I’m sure some people at Microsoft see this campaign as a success. After all, we’re all talking about it this morning. But I disagree.

Anyway, sorry for adding onto the blogstorm here, but thought it was important enough to add my $.02. What do you think?

Great notes on yesterday’s Virtual Goods Summit

I just uploaded a bunch of great notes from yesterday’s Virtual Goods Summit to my link blog.

The summit was remarkable because of Susan Wu’s leadership — she’s a VC at Charles River Ventures. Along with co-host, Charles Hudson of Google, they put together a conference that was unexpectedly good — a few people in the hallways had just come from the Supernova conference and said this one was noticeably better than Supernova. Susan wrote an excellent editorial on TechCrunch the other day which set the tone for the conference. I’m just happy that there’s another business model to talk about with CEOs. I’m so tired of hearing “advertising” as the answer to how we’ll all make money on the Internet.

I’m very honored that I got to moderate an excellent panel yesterday. Here’s Virtual World’s notes on the panel I moderated. It’s amazing how complete the notes are. Joey Seiler, the guy who typed them, must really be fast.

Corporate Culture, Facebook Style

Facebook turned on its new video feature today. Its best evangelist? Chris Putnam.

Do you remember that name? Oldtimers here will. Five years ago, back when he was 16, he let me listen to his piano practice via a Web service. Today? He’s on Facebook.

He’s an engineer there and runs security. I’ve watched a bunch of his videos. They are fun, if not frivolous things. Facebook seems to have a fun culture.

What’s weird is I’m now dealing with Ami Vora, who works in Facebook’s PR department. Wait a second, I know Ami. She used to work at Microsoft and I’ve even interviewed her a time or two back on Channel 9.

Oh, and happy 21’st birthday Chris!