Nearly every day in public relations news I run across an “expert on social networking” plying cyberspace with still another “pitch”. In searching Google news earlier, sure enough, there it was – today’s “Internet PR Wizardry” expounding on the generalities of media relations 2.0. In an article for the Examiner entitled “Researching tactics: Up-to-date public relations advice that works”, the author plugs the media intelligence service Cision. Beyond the excessive number of posts about this company, there is the issue of correctness in directing people to “supposed” cutting edge and up-to-date resources.
The Examiner is a well respected source for “insider” information, and I find myself there frequently in looking for material for our readers. I say this because I never expected to find what appears to be a “paid for post” or article(s) by one of the contributors, author and publicist Anna De Souza. If the article in question were simply a plug for Cision, and did not contain 4 links to the various Cision pages in a 154 word post, not even a hint at conflicting interests would exist. Just plugging a business (even 3 times in a few recent posts) could be out of sheer energetic enthusiasm for a product or service. But, for the Examiner and De Souza, conflicts can sometimes be suggested when there is no real basis in fact. This is something we will all have to deal with more and more in the coming years.
We are at this moment drafting white papers and one book that in some way or another deals with conflicts of interest, disclosure, and even the FTC’s impending regulation of the blogsophere in these regards. Then along comes this Examiner article. No, these Examiner articles dealing with or connected to Cision.
To remain objective about all this, I want to point out that Anna De Souza appears to be a knowledgeable publicist. Her resume reflects this, as well as revealing her expertise and affinity for Cision’s MediaSource. So, in point of fact, her affinity for Cision products could be the basis for these articles. This is not exactly the point however. Given that Cision had to have permission (or should have asked) from Souza (or the Examiner) to “re-post” this article of Souza’s on the Examiner(which is beyond irony in talking about gifting), at least the appearances are not good here. As for transparency or conflicts of interest, if any, I could find nowhere on the Examiner site any sponsorship or disclaimer about Cision, and as for Souza, none was evident either.
I really hope the upcoming FTC rules and regulations do not go so far as I just did (but we all know they will go further). Ms. Souza perhaps just overlooked the possibility that her enthusiasm for a company or its products might reflect a “hint” of conflict. Of course the title of the article which got me to wondering reflects that she knows something of “up to date” tactics, and that Cision is the place to get it. On the contrary, two of the 3 executive white paper I downloaded from Cision were from 2007, and the third from 2008. Still more irony is reflected in a direct quote from this fairly good paper:
“Expose all potential conflicts of interest or corporate ties right off the bat.”
Aside the numerous grammatical and spelling errors I found, much of this information was at best – useful. Ergo, this is why I questioned the relationship at all. Why are these papers worthy of so many links in a short article. Any way, I hope anyone reading this will understand (and this is from the white paper as well), if conflicts are not mentioned from the onset, any curious and astute blogger or news person will find them. This is the Internet after all.
We all leave a digital footprint that leads to just about everything we do. For PR people, and I suspect Souza is a good one, slip ups like this (even the appearance of them) is just bad. And please, for crying out loud, if you are going to profess something, make sure it is correct. Evangelizing Cision’s white papers as “cutting edge” and hot off the press, only to find they are two years old? De Souza, in my opinion, simply did a fast job of getting some content out in a couple of these cases. As for her other work, it seems fairly exemplary to me. The problem for her I think is, she is a good writer and publicist how has a little knowledge about a lot of things. In the end, this kind of expertise leads to failing in some areas. As for watching the Examiner’s back and her own with regard to “apparent credibility”, she failed to think past her her contentions.
Author’s Note: I am not suggesting any impropriety on the part of the Examiner or Miss De Souza. This post was intended to illustrate the point that, even good journalists and publications can “appear” to be in conflict if circumstantial evidences of collusion are even hinted at. As for my suggestion that De Souza’s title and suggested sources for up-to-date tips and white papers was flawed, this is rather obviously correct in that these white papers and some of the data on Cision’s site are dated at best.