Let me get this straight: A reporter for The New York Times writes about this unsavory plot by corporations and their strategic communications representatives to provide news and information via their own paid-for VNRs.
And based on this incredibly incisive "discovery," the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is now looking in-to why and how TV stations use these materials. In addition, it's researching whether such material must be labeled by the stations.
Hmmm. Well, I wonder if what's good for the proverbial goose is good for the gander.
So, let's see if this works equitably - at least in television media.
Good Morning America is doing an interview with the star of a major film produced by the Disney Co. The star talks about his role, the plot, a clip of the film is shown... and then there is a wonderful light banter between him and Diane Sawyer - and viewers are urged, "Don't miss this film."
Now, because the Disney Co. owns ABC, ABC owns GMA, and the star is appearing in a movie produced by Disney... do you suppose there will be a label of some sort, while the interview is taking place, which states, "This interview and guest were provided by Disney to promote its film - and this segment is being aired on GMA, which Disney also owns"?
Somehow I don't think so.
ESPN decided to do a multi-part series on Barry Bonds as he pursued breaking both Babe Ruth's and Hank Aaron's highly vaunted home-run records. The segments focus on Bonds the man - his daily trials and tribulations - as he travels to baseball stadiums across America. Pretty exciting stuff! One slight caveat, though: ESPN was PAYING Bonds for this insightful series - much like you'd pay any actor who appears in a TV series or movie. And, perhaps even more important, Bonds, as part of his agreement with the network, had the right to review all content before airing.
So, if we were to apply potential FCC regulations to this scenario, would ESPN have offered, at the beginning of the show, "ESPN has paid Barry Bonds for the right to interview, follow, and videotape him as he pursues two of the greatest milestones in baseball history - and the show you are about to see was approved by Mr. Bonds prior to airing"?
Nope. Didn't happen. The good news is, though, "his" show was canceled anyway.
The examples are endless... and no one ever says "boo."
So what's my point in all this? Well, as we see the various marketing disciplines melding together as never before, and as "content" gets more blurred between what's original and what's been provided, please don't use PR pros as convenient "whipping boys" for what some media "purists" may consider to be the malady.
Truth is, this has been going on for eons in one shape or another. And given the economics of marketing today, necessity is the mother of invention. If it's convenient for a TV station or network to use materials provided by a third party, so be it. They've been doing it to promote themselves and their content since the beginning.
So just don't beat up on us. If the FCC is going to investigate content, why don't they look at a much broader, colloquial "picture"?
George David Drucker is CMO of RF/Binder Partners.