08 May2011

Every so often, I get emails from nitwits that haven’t bothered to really read through my blog or figure out if I would be receptive to their frankly outrageous and offensive offers. But maybe I am just an anomaly, a dissenting voice in a sea of folks who think there is nothing ethically wrong with selling their opinion or agreeing to post favorable mentions for a product, service or event in exchange for a free trip to Boracay, hotel accommodations PLUS a cash fee. Not biased they will say, really liked the product or service anyway, the freebies and money had nothing to do with swaying opinion, or obtaining print/post space. Yeah, right.

I received the following email from someone purporting to represent a fairly established PR/Marketing firm, a local arm of an international organization, tribal DDB. I can’t possibly think that the ethical standards in the U.S. would condone this sort of behavior. Or the ethical standards anywhere in the world, for that matter. I reprint the email below verbatim, but cross out the name of the sender out of a sense of delicadeza. It isn’t about the person, it’s about the practice that seems to be rather common in the Philippines. I have the IP address of the sender, email address, and I have checked that the person who purportedly sent the email is indeed connected with the mentioned company, and while I cannot be totally certain that the email is 100% authentic, I beg a reliable officer at the company to correct me if I am wrong. Also, it just so happens that I know a pretty senior executive at SMART handling investor and media relations so it shouldn’t be hard to confirm if this PR company is indeed handling work for SMART. Oh, and the reply I sent to the corporate email address did not bounce back, hence I assume it is a legitimate company address…

From:axxxxxx.xxxxxxxx@tribalddb.com.ph
Thursday, May 5, 2011 9:38 PM
To: Marketman@Marketmanila.com

“Invitation

This is from Tribal DDB Philippines. We would like to invite you to join the Smart Bro LTE Test in Boracay.
It will be an all-expense paid trip. The event will happen somewhere between May 21- June 18. It will just be an overnight trip.
If you can also blog about this soon to be experience, please advise us of your expected compensation or rates if any.
Limited slots only. Please confirm as soon as possible.

Thank you.
Best regards,
Axxxxxx Xxxxxxxx
(02) XXX-7888”

This is the response I sent back a few hours ago:

“Dear Axxxxxx,

I received your email below and frankly, am flabbergasted by the sheer audacity and lack of ethics that the email suggests.

I do not accept freebies and I most certainly do not accept payment in exchange for a favorable post about your client’s activity, brand or service. If you had bothered to read my blog first, you would have noticed that I have repeatedly railed about unethical behavior with respect to pay for posts and other such situations.

Is SMART aware of the fact that you are blatantly offering bloggers/press(?) outright cash and items/services in kind in exchange for an article or post? I can’t imagine how your parent company in the U.S. would react if it were discovered that employees at subsidiaries elsewhere in the world were found to be making such offers.

Take this as a no. And read my post on the matter on my blog.

Marketman”

A VERY SWIFT RESPONSE FROM THE CEO OF Tribal DDB Philippines:

I got a call from Ms. Melissa Limcaoco, CEO of Tribal DDB Philippines around 11 am this morning and we had a chance to discuss the email that I received from her firm, penned by a member of her staff. First and foremost, it was a genuine apology for the email I was sent, and any “misunderstanding” it may have caused. The crux of our discussions boiled down to the following:

1. The email sent to Marketman was not written well and Tribal DDB did not communicate their real intentions properly. The idea was to have an all-expense paid trip to Boracay to try the service of their client that is only available in that location at this point. The idea was for there to be no out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the invited bloggers/guests and that includes airfare, hotels, transfers and meals.

2. I asked her point blank, and she answered that “Tribal DDB Philippines DOES NOT pay for posts”.

3. When asked why there was a sentence suggesting possible compensation, she explained that was meant to be linked to the all-expenses paid trip, but not to any cash payment to bloggers in exchange for a post/editorial, etc. She agreed it didn’t sound right and could definitely be read the wrong way… My conclusion on this matter is that the sentence was not related to the trip, but to the post, and the sentence explicitly reads that way.

4. We both agreed that there is NO requirement that the post be positive, but I also said it was unlikely that anyone who accepted an all-expense paid trip would write a negative post. At best, they wouldn’t write anything at all.

I totally appreciate the quick and very senior response to the post I wrote above. I completely understand that mistakes are often made, but that a real, earnest, comprehensive attempt to clarify the matter, accept responsibility, apologize for errors, etc. is the only appropriate solution. I do hope folks have learned a lesson about the importance of how we communicate, even in emails, and the consequences that poorly crafted emails will have on the individual who wrote it, the company they represent, their clients, and public perception. I am always willing to give folks the benefit of the doubt, and while I consider this issue closed, I will leave the post up as it is a factual exchange of emails and discussions and it will hopefully help others avoid the same mistakes in future. Thank you.

—————–

I have written several posts on this topic. Here are some of them for anyone who is interested:

Mad Crowd Media, Don’t Piss Me Off!!!
Mad Crowd Media, The Concluding Post
P.S., Nestle Just Sent an email
Why I Don’t Write for a Newspaper/Magazine and Refuse to Accept Freebies
Full Disclosure for U.S. Bloggers who Accept Freebies
“I Told You So!”
Ethics in Journalism and Food Journalism… Why shouldn’t the same standards apply to all bloggers?

 

COMMENTS:

  1. charlie says:

    I admire bloggers like you who does not accept fees /advertisement in their site. You and others are rare now a day. I respect your unbiased opinion.

    May 8, 2011 | 11:15 pm

     
  2. chreylle says:

    i truly admire u MM!!!

    May 8, 2011 | 11:29 pm

     
  3. Melissa says:

    You’re one in a million MM! =) Frankly most other blogs are dubious in terms of the objectivity of their write ups. This explains why. =)

    May 8, 2011 | 11:58 pm

     
  4. aktivstrain says:

    inquirer.net is guilty of a similar offense. notice how promotional news/feature article often crop up as a “breaking news”. don’t they have classifieds or at even the feature/lifestyle section for that already? it’s just becoming tad annoying.

    May 9, 2011 | 4:25 am

     
  5. tenbreedmountaindog says:

    Check out the Friday and weekend editions of the major dailies. Beyond the main section, it’s all commercial fluff that makes us believe life would be so incomplete without the products mentioned, and how life is so wonderful with the “L2R” party animals featured.

    May 9, 2011 | 6:33 am

     
  6. kakusina says:

    I get it and I agree with you about the sleazy practices of media and PR practitioners. However, I don’t think the ethical standards in the US are something to admire. What about the CEOs of US companies bailed out by the US government, spending millions of dollars for bonuses for themselves. What about Dick Cheney and Halliburton?

    May 9, 2011 | 8:53 am

     
  7. acid says:

    so I guess this means you’re not “The Big Bad Blogger” hahahahaha

    May 9, 2011 | 9:03 am

     
  8. ami says:

    Way to go MM!

    May 9, 2011 | 9:09 am

     
  9. andrea says:

    i agree with melissa – you’re one in a million. you are truly deserving of respect and admiration.

    May 9, 2011 | 9:10 am

     
  10. christine says:

    For some reason, even if this offer wasn’t offered to me (not that I expect them to), I felt insulted! It disappoints me that SMART or any other company for that matter had to “buy” biased write ups. Aren’t they confident enough about their product? I have been a loyal SMART client for the past 8 years and this makes me rethink if I should renew my contract with them (our contract is about to expire in a month or so).

    May 9, 2011 | 9:17 am

     
  11. Marissa says:

    I find what you did truly admirable sir. I used to love reading certain blogs but some of their more recent posts are obviously sponsored already. Stay true.

    May 9, 2011 | 9:30 am

     
  12. mironmiron says:

    Hi Marketman, advertising has assumed different forms nowadays. The sponsored posts/pay per post is a one of those forms. It is side by side with fine print ads, or TV commercials where the advertisers pays the product endorsers. Just think of the bloggers as humble brand ambassadors. Most of those promoting the products on TV are comparable to them. Advertisers are approaching specific bloggers as they are the celebrities of the blogosphere.

    IMO.

    May 9, 2011 | 9:45 am

     
  13. jay p says:

    oopsie!

    May 9, 2011 | 10:24 am

     
  14. eric says:

    It didn’t say you have to write something positive about the product… it was also asking if you require any compensation for writing a review on your popular blog.

    May 9, 2011 | 10:34 am

     
  15. Mom-Friday says:

    This is just one of many similar emails I’ve received, and I am with you 100% on this one.
    I’ve also had a not so professional experience with said agency and gave feedback to one of their very young account executives — I guess they did not improve or learn from that experience we had last year. :(

    May 9, 2011 | 11:02 am

     
  16. rhea says:

    and this is the reason why i read your blogs. its on my top sites page and i cant go a day without reading it.

    :)

    May 9, 2011 | 11:09 am

     
  17. arpee lazaro says:

    i got a similar email but a far lesser offer. i was just asked to join a project where i was to help drive traffic to a microsite. for me there was no mention of any trips or compensation. all they asked were that i accept entries on my blog for a contest of some sort. i tried to call them for more details, but they never answered nor did they bother to send me a text message. sad lang, kasi i’m a loyal subscriber of Smart and would have helped out just the same. i guess i wasn’t that big a celebrity to warrant a call back.

    May 9, 2011 | 11:46 am

     
  18. sandee says:

    I can’t say that I’m surprised. In a forum I frequent, I have come across new members who start off by pretending to ask for opinions about wireless broadband, internet connection, network signal, and other related products/services. Then they supposedly test out the suggestions and find that Smart’s the best. Sometimes the posts recommending the company even coincide with posts asking for suggestions/opinions, in different threads of course, but still obvious nevertheless. This has happened several times already over the past couple of years.

    May 9, 2011 | 11:50 am

     
  19. RobKSA says:

    i agree you’re one in a million MM. and the other 999,999 do blogs to earn money. :-)

    May 9, 2011 | 12:17 pm

     
  20. Anthony says:

    MM
    I admire you for being ethical. That is why I read your blog regularly (at least once a week).
    Anthony

    May 9, 2011 | 12:21 pm

     
  21. Lambchop says:

    Good for you! The gall of that letter. It was terribly written and crude really. Yikes! Good reply lol!

    May 9, 2011 | 12:33 pm

     
  22. hototay says:

    1) the way i see it, the agency didn’t do their assignment. being a digital agency, they should know which bloggers ask for compensation and which do not. but then again, a disclosure page doesn’t always say the whole truth. a lot of bloggers state in the page that they don’t accept compensation but it’s a different story kapag kaharap na ang agency.

    2) if you don’t accept compensation, then leave it at that. why bother writing a long love letter to the agency when a simple “no, i don’t accept paid post” will do?

    3) the letter didn’t say that you should write something positive about the event.

    4) the letter said to let them know if you accept compensation or not, which leads me to my second point that if you don’t accept compensation, then just tell them plain and simple.

    5) the fact remains that while you’re one of the very few bloggers who don’t accept compensation, there are still a lot of bloggers who do. they do this for a living. i’m still at a crossroads on how to treat this–whether they are being ethical or not, whether they have compromised their integrity or not–but that’s the way it goes.

    May 9, 2011 | 12:48 pm

     
  23. Art19b says:

    The letter sounds like it’s a net they throw to the bloggers and see who bites. Sadly, blogging has become very commercialized with very dubious credibility. It used to be fun to read blogs that give honest, spontaneous info but now you can smell paid blogging a mile away. This is why I read your blog. Thank you for being honest, being informed, and making an effort. Because everybody and their mother blogs, it’s becoming very hard to sort thru the sea of blogs. I’ve actually been part of a blogging event ( a friend owned the resort and asked me to accompany her ) and wow, what a bunch of freeloaders. I was seriously horrified at how they would act simply because they had blogs. My friend learned her lesson then and it truly turned me off from all these blogs. While everybody is entitled to their opinion, it’s dangerous when people use it to power trip and freeload. After all, if you have a good product… It will sell. Period.

    May 9, 2011 | 12:55 pm

     
  24. Fedoran says:

    I received the same email from that PR firm, however, the sender thought I was somebody else. I replied informing the sender they mistook me for another blogger. Guess what? They never replied back nor apologized. Hahaha.

    May 9, 2011 | 1:20 pm

     
  25. Cris Jose says:

    MM.. while you are truly an aberration (?) in the blogging world and I mean that in a good way :)… other bloggers are really in it for the money, the freebies and the whatnot. Also, it would be safe to assume that you are in a better financial standing than most. ;)

    Nevertheless, it is very refreshing to see your blog uncluttered by all the advertisements and pop-ups.. and as always it is a very entertaining albeit sometimes stress-inducing (due to the rants, which we love) read.

    May 9, 2011 | 1:23 pm

     
  26. Betchay says:

    That is why you have many readers.Your blog is honest and untainted.

    May 9, 2011 | 1:31 pm

     
  27. cora says:

    there is an integrity and honesty in your blog and i like it that way!
    keep it as it is and i will keep on reading your blog.
    it’s good you did not yield to those idiots!

    May 9, 2011 | 2:09 pm

     
  28. Gregory says:

    There is no need to blog because there is no need to google when you are already searching inside facebook!. All the business has to do is to create a Facebook page where users/consumers can post their GOOD and BAD comments/experiences with product/service. So easy.

    May 9, 2011 | 2:42 pm

     
  29. Lei says:

    i like it the way you describe yourself, an anomaly. heeheehee. just like neo (in matrix movie), he was an anomaly that shook the matrix world. hope your continuing fight to install some sense of ethics in the blogging community be a reminder to those who are just after the money.

    May 9, 2011 | 2:52 pm

     
  30. roxy says:

    A simple no would’ve proved your point that you’re not one of those bloggers that accept compensation for some projects.

    Look at it in a different perspective: engaging bloggers is one advertising medium in the digital space. Some accept compensation/token/etc and some don’t. Plain and simple. Why do you have to over-react? Those who even decline any compensation or those who don’t have rates but are willing to be involved in the project are even much appreciated.

    Kudos to being firm about your principles, though. But maybe you should take a vacation…. seriously, we don’t need another hot-headed person in the country. Relax! ;)

    May 9, 2011 | 3:01 pm

     
  31. Belgin says:

    MM, following/reading your blog regularly, you have had a profound effect on making a great contribution for me to learn about your thoughts and opinions and your example has been a great lesson for me. Thanks for your helpful gift, I am sure others feel the way I do.

    May 9, 2011 | 3:04 pm

     
  32. jigs says:

    Bravo, MM!

    May 9, 2011 | 4:13 pm

     
  33. Marketman says:

    Belgin, thank you. 30. Roxy, if you read the updated version of the post up top, possibly updated after you wrote your comment, you would see that the CEO of the firm called to say they simply DO NOT PAY FOR POSTS. So even if we take the email as a total mistake, then it is clear that the management of the PR company themselves have publicly stated that paying for posts is in FACT, UNACCEPTABLE. And in the U.S., where their parent company resides, bloggers would have to fully disclose any freebies and payments received, or be subject to a huge fine. So the issue of ethics is not in dispute. Advertising for pay is one acceptable avenue. A positive review in exchange for a non-disclosed payment is deceptive, unethical and in some countries now illegal without full disclosure. If the email did not include the sentence on payment, I would have simply deleted it. I get free offers once a week or so from trips to Singapore, free appliances to try, food, ingredients, equipment, services, etc. and I ignore them. But ask me how much I want to be paid for a post, and write it in a form letter blasted to dozens of bloggers, and write it with barely a decent command of the language you choose to communicate in, then you open yourself up to a blast back. :) Think about it another way, if you heard of a teenage boy asking a girl to do something she didn’t want to do, and was illegal for her age anyway, AND used money as an added incentive for her to do it, wouldn’t you think that was wrong, offensive, unconscionable? Even if the girl agreed to do it? It’s a bit extreme of an example, but no different from an ethical point of view… my gray areas between black and white are just far thinner than what you might be suggesting. Furthermore, I normally don’t let comments in from first time posters such as yours when the person doesn’t provide a truthful and functioning email address, but I have let it through because it looks much sillier now that the company itself has admitted the email was wrong/a mistake/poorly crafted or worded. If you had read this blog regularly over the years, with nearly 3,000 posts, my rants are a very minor part of the posts, but often closely tracked by the readers for some bizarre reason…

    May 9, 2011 | 4:36 pm

     
  34. becky says:

    i guess i’ll be on the look out for blogs who’re going to feature this SMART event..hehe

    @roxy – have you not read other marketman posts on the matter? accepting payment in any form compromises the blogger’s integrity because he’d be inclined to write positively about something he got for free. and the blogging world is built upon trust. trust of the reader on the write. would you read a blog everyday if you knew that the writer could not be trusted 100% ?

    and with regard to DDB’S response, i think they were just making ‘palusot’ hehe

    May 9, 2011 | 4:44 pm

     
  35. Marketman says:

    kakusina, I was referring to ethical standards with respect to blogging really. There are new specific laws in the states and elsewhere governing these types of situations, but we don’t have them in the Philippines yet to my knowledge. I agree that ethics anywhere in the world can be questionable, but you would have to look at the big picture. In my recent review of credit cards, Filipinos commit credit card fraud far more frequently than any other Asian market or the North American market. The loss ratios on cards are likewise higher here. In work I did many years ago, the discussion was about why the Philippines had some of the highest pilferage rates from drugstores, groceries, department stores, etc. compared with neighboring countries. And ultimately, one would have to wonder if we are generally more ethical as a nation, then we shouldn’t be committing so much CC fraud, not paying our bills, and stealing items from shops… These are just small examples, but concrete ones on a macro level… Unfortunately 10% (or whatever the number is) rotten chicos, makes the whole kaing less appealing…

    May 9, 2011 | 4:47 pm

     
  36. RobKSA says:

    i read the email at least 6 times and it is an explicit suggestion of a payment for a blog. PERIOD!

    May 9, 2011 | 4:55 pm

     
  37. Jayjayv says:

    If i may say MM, the first e mail was quite clear. I dont think what the CEO said was actually true. I think she was doing some damage control. Their big mistake was sending you the e mail but the first e mail was a plain and simple enticement for a blogger to write about the event. With an all expenses paid trip AND compensation ( which they asked you to quote ) how will one write a negative review?

    May 9, 2011 | 6:25 pm

     
  38. rosedmd says:

    “suplado” BUT , I LOVE it !!!! that’s why i continuously read your blog. You stand for what you believe in…..You Never accept freebies and always say your opinions, ideas in a nice way!

    May 9, 2011 | 6:33 pm

     
  39. ntgerald says:

    I agree, the CEO’s letter is a damage-control letter, a “palusot”, as Jayjayv and becky stated.

    May 9, 2011 | 7:12 pm

     
  40. Footloose says:

    But a veiled offer of bribe is so much more effective. Did they not know this?

    May 9, 2011 | 7:26 pm

     
  41. Carol says:

    Way to go, MM! Good to know you did what you had to do. This also proves that the said practice is alive in the blogging world, just like what they do in print media (especially in the Lifestyle sections of newpapers and in lifestyle magazines). The gall and audacity of such PR firms…! The client, SMART, should also be held accountable since they engage such irresponsible PR service providers.

    May 9, 2011 | 8:36 pm

     
  42. Gigi says:

    “….ultimately, one would have to wonder if we are generally more ethical as a nation….” Now that’s something interesting! Glad you brought it up. Maybe Filipinos can’t or are unwilling to grasp the idea of “slippery slope”.

    May 9, 2011 | 9:57 pm

     
  43. trax says:

    MM, can i get your freebies instead? haha you are indeed an example to live by. i hope other bloggers would come across this post and learn a thing or two about blogging etiquette.

    May 9, 2011 | 11:40 pm

     
  44. Ryan says:

    *Ryan likes this.*

    May 10, 2011 | 1:53 am

     
  45. GabbyD says:

    basic question: why is it wrong to compensate bloggers for posts? is it a lack of transparency? if yes, then should blogger then merely announce that this is a paid post?

    May 10, 2011 | 4:46 am

     
  46. Marketman says:

    GabbyD, you may want to read some of my earlier posts on the topic, linked at the end of the main post above. Essentially, I think the crux of the matter is that people in a position of “influence” need to hold themselves to a higher standards of objectivity, transparency, and unbiased recommendations.

    May 10, 2011 | 12:11 pm

     
  47. MiMac says:

    I agree with some of the readers– the CEO was just “making palusot” to you! If it were any other blogger, the blogger and the PR firm would have fully understood that the SMART event translates to a junket AND compensation. Envelopmental journalism much?

    Why do you think SMART is always covered by the media??? ;-p

    May 10, 2011 | 4:07 pm

     
  48. roland says:

    equally nauseating are the emails/invites from Political Candidates or emails from restaurant owners trying to get me to change my honest review of their establishment on yelp.com

    May 11, 2011 | 3:34 am

     
  49. Matt says:

    Interesting response. I haven’t had any Philippines companies approach me about my blog but then again I am always complaining about how bad marketing is done here and the fact many things go unnoticed because of it. In the defence of the company though I am aware of a friend of mine who was called by a newspaper for a review. Which he thought fine will give them a free trial of meals and the evening show. They actually requested Transportation services for 20 people, free meals and drinks for the party and payment for doing the work as well. So in response to your email I think they are used to people wanting paying for everything at the same time its why many things aren’t as good as they should be as it creates biast posts towards a company. SMART have had a few negative posts by myself due to poor equipment, poor service and at the same time haven’t looked to repair the damage done by such posts which doesn’t give the right impression of a company where it will pay people bribes in essence at the same time couldn’t care less about its customers. Good on you for calling things as they are.

    May 12, 2011 | 12:28 am

     
  50. moodyaugust says:

    Two things you uphold, MM, DIGNITY & INTEGRITY !!!!

    May 12, 2011 | 11:56 am

     
  51. Trin says:

    Damage control & palusot nga din tingin ko. Or real sloppiness in implementing company policy! But it’s a good learning point. The incident made the agency assert in writing their position on the matter and they will be held up to that statement.

    I’m sure it was a memorable day for the young agency staffer, the boss, the boss’s boss & the CEO.

    Basta in our hearts we know what’s right. :)

    May 12, 2011 | 11:30 pm

     
  52. kulasa says:

    I bet I won’t be the only one on the look out on who blogs about this event.

    May 15, 2011 | 10:28 am

     
  53. Norma says:

    A very clear line should be drawn between advertisement and opinion. In an advertisment, the reading public is aware that they are paid to write positively about the product. In an opinion, specially when expressed by a respected person/blogger must never be paid for it misleads the reader, and worse it degrades the dignity of the blogger. That’s the reason I read Market Manila everyday. I am not against bloggers who accept pay, but they must state that their write-up/s are paid, in which case it becomes an advertisement. Wouldn’t you wish there are more bloggers like MM?

    May 15, 2011 | 6:29 pm

     
  54. Mindanaoan says:

    Uh-oh. I know a blogger who joined this Boracay thingie and blogged about the LTE thingie. Argh. Now I don’t know what and how to feel =/

    May 16, 2011 | 11:34 pm

     
  55. Doc Emer says:

    You’re a good blogger, MM. Keep it up! Ignore all those tempting offers. I salute you :-)

    May 17, 2011 | 11:19 am

     
  56. Mae says:

    I notice that bloggers who accept paid assignments are the ones who write the most poorly as well. Not explicitly connected to your topic, but just an observation. Ironic.

    Oct 10, 2011 | 5:32 pm

     
 

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