Stuart Bruce and Ellee Seymour both reflect on criticism of the public relations activities of Edelman PR and its client Microsoft, for giving select bloggers a computer to “roadtest” the new Vista software. Interesting to see the veracity and ethics of this tactic being debated – primarily around openness (disclosure) of those undertaking the testing.
Vehicle loans and pre-sale launches are a long-standing element of public relations in the motoring world – with a “press fleet administrator” pro-actively managing roadtests of new and existing models – as well as responding to requests from the media. How else are you to get coverage of new models? Clearly you cannot expect the media to purchase every new car – so a professional loan system is essential.
There are some ethical concerns – it is expected that someone will write about the model (and they may not get further loans if felt to be “freeloading”) but fair criticism is considered part of a credible roadtest. There has also been a lot of discussion about whether or not bloggers are comparable to traditional media in terms of being offered loans (something I expect we’ll discuss at the MIPAA Press Fleet Co-ordinators’ meeting next month).
Microsoft’s approach does raise some questions – as cited by Stuart the company told the chosen bloggers “…while I hope you will blog about your experience with the pc, you don’t have to. Also, you are welcome to send the machine back to us after you are done playing with it, or you can give it away to your community, or you can hold onto it for as long as you’d like. Just let me know what you plan to do with it when the time comes.”
In not even expecting to see a review, or at least receive some private feedback, the pc seems more of a “bung” – and there is an undercurrent of it being such in the “do what you like with it” feel. Aren’t there some tax implications here?
In the motoring world, pure “freebies” are the stuff of legend – associated with the millionaire Octav Botnar who founded Datsun UK in 1970 (and was wanted for tax avoidance when he died in 1991). Giving away Datsuns was meant to prove Japanese reliability and I don’t remember hearing of anyone declining the offer. (BTW I took my driving lessons in a Datsun Cherry and wouldn’t have wanted one even for free)
Today, most car loans are short-term (usually a week), but long-term tests may be agreed with key media. This is a “braver” strategy as problems may occur over time (especially if drivers are negligent) or finding something to say regularly may result in very minor niggles gaining coverage (see http://blogs.edmunds.com/roadtests/ which is an interesting development effectively blogging roadtests).
It seems bloggers are less familiar with this common PR tactic of “loans” and launches. Sampling of clothes, wine, travel, fmcg are regularly part of a journalist’s job – I even heard from a former student of a visit to Venice last year for a bathroom suite launch. What perhaps isn’t so common is the media making clear what costs have been paid for in resulting coverage. Isn’t that more about journalistic ethics?
Clearly, if they are influential, it is not surprising bloggers are approached with the same PR techniques. It will be interesting to see if there is more disclosure online or if, as seems to be common in blogosphere, it is another stick to question the ethics of PR practitioners.