NEW YORK: Edelman has published an ethical framework on how it will produce sponsored content to kick-start an industry-wide discussion on the increasingly popular practice.
The guidelines, published Tuesday in Edelman's sponsored content report, call for PR professionals to exercise “good judgment and common sense,” to ensure the interests of business and the press are aligned with those of the public.
Steve Rubel, chief content strategist at Edelman, said that while companies in this space have developed their own rules for sponsored content, there is not yet an industry-wide standard.
“We feel as this is new territory and there needs to be an ethical way forward,” he said. “We hope other PR agencies develop their own approach and there is a common acceptance.”
Due to the number of “gray areas” when it comes to sponsored content, such as the confluence of earned media and paid-for media, a public discussion will ensure the industry can move forward in a way that maintains public trust, according to Rubel.
Edelman's guidelines state that the day-to-day roles of pitching the media and negotiating sponsored-content deals must remain distinct at the agency to prevent a quid pro quo discussion about what is paid for and what is earned.
The agency will also clearly disclose editorial-style sponsored content on major news sites. It also plans to work with publishers to ensure the distinction between paid and earned content is clear.
For each piece of sponsored content that Edelman produces, it will advocate audience participation as a way of increasing trust.
Edelman's framework states that sponsored content will not serve as a replacement for earned and owned media, but rather a tool to amplify it. The guidelines only apply to the firm's sponsored content work in the US.
“We hope this is the beginning of a long discussion, and we encourage media agencies, PR agencies, industry bodies, publishers, and readers to weigh in with their own response,” said Rubel.
The report represents a shift in strategy towards content creation, as outlined by CEO Richard Edelman in April in a blog post after previously opposing the blurring of the line between PR and advertising. The agency's ethical framework covers issues of disclosure, quality, and process.
Rubel said Edelman's new stance will not see paid-for media subsuming earned media.
“There is nothing more credible than content that is written by a third-party in their own voice with the fact-checking of a journalist,” he said. “Sponsored content can't come close to rivaling that trust, but gives us a way to make sure our clients messaging is heard in a new way, which is increasingly important due to challenge content has of getting discovered.”