WOMMA's role as champion of ethics is tough to question

Wal-Mart and WOMMA have something in common, and it's not just that the latter sounds like a motivational call from the former's employee handbook.

Wal-Mart and WOMMA have something in common, and it's not just that the latter sounds like a motivational call from the former's employee handbook.

That common denominator is the likelihood that not a small number of people feel some form of antipathy towards the two.

Whether it is concerns that the entity's expansion comes at the expense of small businesses (Wal-Mart) or that the entity could foster stealth marketing duplicity (WOMMA), there are people who will not hear any arguments for these organizations.

So it's no surprise that some people are not swayed by WOMMA's recently released ethical questions and guidelines and the six-month probation for Edelman for its ethical lapse (Editorial, October 23) in improperly disclosing involvement in a blog created for Wal-Mart-funded Working Families for Wal-Mart.

Word-of-mouth critics are vocal, and when Edelman, a WOMMA member, was forced to deal with its gaffe, they pounced on Edelman blogs, the WOMBAT blog, and elsewhere. There are many people who don't want to engage with WOMMA and would rather its existence be invalidated. But rather than stay mute, WOMMA is exhibiting great poise.

It has invited frequent critic/blogger Jeff Jarvis to attend its December conference to interview - or grill - Edelman CEO Richard Edelman. Judging by his blog post on the invitation, Jarvis will likely decline.

I was embarrassed for marketers when I actually looked at the questions (generic examples: have you disclosed your relationship? Are you being factual?). If WOMMA really had to release these ethical tools because marketers were blind to the ethics of their trade, well, then a stone thrown at WOMMA is ammunition poorly spent.

Andy Sernovitz, cofounder and CEO of WOMMA, admits the questions weren't intended to be revelatory.

"Yes, these ethical guidelines are ridiculously obvious, and it's sort of sad that we need to tell people that,' Sernovitz tells PRWeek. He adds, however, that the questions underscore his group's ethical commitment.

"We [thought about] ethics before we did anything else," Sernovitz says. "Word of mouth will only work if it's based on a platform of ethics."

Sernovitz also says that the organization is not just taking members for the sake of numbers - that they need to have the concerns of acting ethically suffused throughout their companies.

Critics need to realize that word of mouth continues to be an important marketing discipline, and, whether buoyed by a trade organization or supported by corporate partners, it has been around unofficially for quite some time. And it will continue.

Sernovitz says WOMMA has signed 30 members in the past 30 days. So, even critics who want word of mouth gone should probably be glad there is a front-line group taking a stand on ethics. The need for its questions may not be comforting, but their stance is.

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