Yesterday I attended the DMMA lead debate, at the Quirk offices, with the intention of debating, or rather discussing and defining, the ‘rules of engagement that need to co-exist between bloggers, PR professionals and Ad Agency MD’s’. I joined a group of industry leaders around a table laden with muffins and treats- none of which were touched for the two hours we were there, mostly because the discussion never ended, we actually ran out of time. This brought two major truths to my attention. The first being; industry people (me included) love to talk about this sort of thing, at length, and secondly; we are currently dealing with a massive communication gap between bloggers and, well, the world.
The debate was the result of a post @capetown_girl put up about a month ago. It discussed the issue of paid for blogging. It also got a lot of people arguing over the matter. The DMMA stepped in and asked those of us involved in the online debate if we’d like to bring it to a table. A month later, there I sat, in a room full of people, trying to define the following;
- The role and responsibilities of bloggers, ad agencies and PR’s- understanding the different functions of each
- Protocol and processes for communication between parties- ‘The Rules of Engagement’
- Standardised measurement- determining the credibility of the blog which would thus warrant an appropriate fee
Some of the top bloggers from their relative categories were there to weigh in from the bloggers side; Dylan Savage – Life is Savage (@LifeisSavage), Dax Villanueva – Relax with Dax (@RelaxWithDax), Ishay Govender – Food and the Fabulous (@Foodandthefab), Victoria Tatham – Kiss, Blush and Tell (@toritatham), Michelle Atanga and Hendri Lategan – Memeburn (@michatanga @00hendri), and, of course, me.
As well as the PR agencies and ad people, who were represented by; Nicole Capper – Mango-Omc (@ncapper), Adele Kruger – Ogilvy (@Adele_Kruger), Tracy Jones – Positive Dialogue (@PDCcoza), James McKay – Quirk (@thejamesmckay), and Catherine Scott – Quirk (@cathscott).
All cheered by Suzanne Little (@SuLittleZA) and Nikki Cockcroft (@nikkicockcroft).
The debate went well- we got lost every now and then, venturing a little too far down the process chain, sometimes all the way to the execution of a campaign, but we were always brought back to the point, often by James who played his agency man role perfectly and made sure we kept focus, or as much as a group like our could. Nikki and Su asked all the right questions, and the conversation flowed easily. Great points were raised from all sides, blogger expectations from brands, and vice versa were discussed. There were no real arguments, which was great seeing as I’ve detected a bit of a harsh undercurrent online lately, between brand/agency and bloggers, and what exactly each should expect.
My biggest issue with the online space is the fact that it’s a bit like the Wild West at the moment. Sure it benefits a few cowboys, but as we know, their time, although immortalised through movies, was very brief. I see brands and bloggers getting taken advantage of quite often. And in most cases where someone has been taken advantage of, it boiles down to a lack of education, or knowledge. Knowledge of what to do in a situation, or enough education, or experience to know how to avoid that kind of a situation. No matter who is getting screwed, it screws us all eventually. If agencies start distrusting online even more, we get less work. If bloggers keep getting buggered by agencies, they’ll be more reluctant to work. A healthy balance needs to be found.
First and foremost I believe agencies should be educated. They need to know what they are looking for, how they want to measure it, and how they want to use the information. Once this is established- and it needs to be established and accepted across South African agencies collectively- the bloggers can be educated as to what the agencies are looking for, so that they can adequately provide their solution, and pitch their ideas/campaign well.
As musch as a standard unit of measurement will help group bloggers into more definable segments based on traffic, I believe it could also be detrimental to some. Audience, engagement, loyalty, and correct brand alignment should always be taken into account when considering a blogger or blog. That said, I believe that the transparency when it comes to traffic and how it is measured, means the blogger and agency can have an honest conversation about the campaign (the stuff that matters) without having numbers to worry about. If the numbers are all out on the table, it comes down to the relationship and the bloggers pitch, or the agency’s knowledge of the blogger.
With online being so quantifiable it’s easy to get caught up purely in the numbers, but you must consider that most of it is also very creative, and dealing with creatives is never easy. Alex (CTG) has the following opinion on paid for blogging; ‘I’ve made something. You want it. Pay for it.’ Now, while I agree with that, I think it’s quite broad, and it all comes down, again, to the specific blogger. Some can be paid in product, others cash. At the end of the day each party has the right to say ‘no’.
So yes, some sort of standardized measurement needs to be made available, and the education process needs to happen. But it must not be used as the be all and end all, or the final word when it comes to paying bloggers. The bloggers have worked for their audience, whatever size it may be, and if agencies want to use that channel (their blog) then they must be prepared to pay, in some way or another. The standardized measurement just means that everyone in the room has a better understanding of each other, what is expected, and how much, roughly, the brand can expect to pay.
I think we’ve only just scratched the surface and I’m looking forward to the results, and future discussions. It was good fun.