In what appeared to be a controversial move, Gawker Media, publisher of six niche blogs, launched a paid-for contract publishing service called Gawker Media Contract Publications last week.
Its first project, a Nike-sponsored "Art of Speed" weblog at www.gawker.com/artofspeed, contains commentary and features 15 shorts made by digital filmmakers and other artists. Nick Denton, publisher of Gawker Media, would not disclose the amount of the contract. Nike, which uses a number of different agencies for PR and advertising, did not return calls for comment.
Gawker Media is the publisher of niche blogs such as Gawker, Wonkette, and Defamer. Nike became an advertiser on Gawker.com, a New York-focused blog last month, Denton said.
The weblog mix of advertising, PR, and marketing, where content is updated daily and focuses on the concept of "speed," features interviews with the filmmakers supplying visual content.
Nike has been relatively hands-off with the development of the weblog campaign, Denton said.
"They've been smart in adopting a light touch and are very careful to ensure that it emerges as organically as possible," he said.
Advertising on blogs is not a new concept. A company called Blogads helps advertisers pick the blogs that best meet the needs of their products. The corporate campaign blog, while unusual, is not without precedent. Early last year, Dr Pepper/Seven Up launched an ill-received blog for a then-new milk product, Raging Cow. The blog was loudly derided with claims of deception. Some bloggers organized boycotts. Denton even referenced that campaign in his own blog, writing, "Dr Pepper/Seven Up seemed cynical in its exploitation of the weblog format when it launched ragingcow.com."
On the opposite side of the spectrum, BMW received accolades for its BMWFilms campaign, in which it commissioned short films from Hollywood directors.
In order to maintain the separation of editorial and paid-for content, Gawker has labeled the latter a "special advertising section."
"Contract publishing is well established in off-line media," Denton said. "The key is full disclosure."
While the idea could potentially upset the blog community, the chatter has been mostly positive.
Denton's main blog-empire competitor, Jason Calacanis of the Weblogs Inc. Network, wrote, "...This is a great step towards making bloggers a living while maintaining the independent voice of blogs."
Jeff Jarvis wrote on his blog, BuzzMachine, "Denton has created an environment suitable for branding, and Nike -- a king of brands -- bought it (for good bucks). That is great for the medium."
Denton dismisses the possibility that the contract campaigns might influence Gawker's tone and content. He points out that, while Gawker has run ads for Conde Nast Properties, the publishing giant has been fairly mocked on the site.
Gawker is considering doing multiple aspects of contracted weblog campaigns, including providing editorial talent and oversight, creating a co-branded page within one of the Gawker sites, and designing or building a standalone blog.
"We're going to be cautious about it and [only] do contract weblogs for appropriate clients," Denton said.
Denton added that he will not target potential partners who might be offended by Gawker Media's content or focus.
"Smart marketers will understand the medium. The others probably shouldn't experiment yet with weblogs," he said.
Denton, who recently took issue with a May Business 2.0 article's revenue projections for his media company, has repeatedly downplayed pundits' business predictions for blogs.
"I've downplayed weblogs mainly because, as an advertising medium, they're still insignificant in terms of raw traffic to other [on- and off-line] media."
He declined to offer revenue projections for the contract-services business, saying, "The results will speak for themselves."