Agencies stress disclosure when paying bloggers

NEW YORK: Compensating bloggers for coverage is common within the PR industry, but it must occur with full disclosure, agency executives said Wednesday.

NEW YORK: Compensating bloggers for coverage is common within the PR industry, but it must occur with full disclosure, agency executives said Wednesday.

The issue of blogger compensation arose again on Wednesday when a US district court judge in California ordered Google and Oracle to disclose payments to journalists and bloggers that occurred during the companies' copyright infringement case earlier this year. Both sides have until August 17 to identify writers whom they paid during the two-year lawsuit, which should clarify whether anything written about the case was “influenced by financial relationships to the parties or counsel,” the judge said.

Digital media has blurred the lines between paid and earned media, but paid media is still a legitimate form of engagement, said Jonathan Kopp, partner and global director of Ketchum Digital. Blogger compensation is appropriate as long as PR executives and bloggers are transparent about it, he said.

“[Paying bloggers] ought not to be a common practice if it occurs without disclosure. That's the real challenge,” Kopp explained.

Ketchum has a policy stating that when compensation is provided to a blogger, the agency must require disclosure by the blogger and employees must remind him or her of that requirement. The agency provides training to new and current employees on the policy.

“Where there's clarity, there's less controversy,” Kopp said.

Ogilvy Public Relations updated its policy on social media engagement in January, and it does not allow employees to pay bloggers to write positively about a brand. However, the agency may compensate influencers or fans as “an adviser or consultant” on specific projects, such as hiring brand ambassadors to create content for Facebook – as long as there is disclosure.     

“It's about providing a remarkable experience in working with bloggers and building relationships,” said Gemma Craven, EVP and New York group director of Social@Ogilvy, the agency's social unit. “We make sure that it's a great story they'd want to write about, and we remind employees to act ethically.”

Some bloggers request payment for coverage, but PR executives should not offer compensation in their initial pitch, said Rob Longert, senior digital media strategist at M Booth. His agency considers compensating bloggers if they request it, he added.

“I would never reach out to a blogger and say, ‘I want to pay you.' We approach it from an authentic manner with a pitch, making sure the blogs are really appropriate for the goals we want to reach for our clients,” Longert said. “It has to be authentic to their platform and to the brand.”  

However, paid blogger coverage does not have the same effect as earned media, noted Mike Paul, president and senior counselor at MGP & Associates.

“It will not have the same impact as an independent journalist who has an interest in the story because they believe it's newsworthy in itself without paying,” he said.

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