Ads on blogs?

*UDATED at the end*

To be asked to the tune of “girls on film”.

If you’re a regular reader of Canadian PR bloggers, you may have noticed a large orange and white banner or badge, inviting you to prove you’re a player. If you haven’t clicked through, and let’s face it, why would you, you’d have found a small flash based game designed by revered ad-agency, Taxi, for the Canadian News Wire (CNW).

I’ll give you a few seconds to think about that. Adverts on public relations blogs. Doesn’t that sound a little…counterintuitive?

Wasn’t the new social, interactive Internet, web 2.0 supposed to be the preserve of the PR agencies. Didn’t we lose out on the first iteration of the web but this time round it’s all ours? Wasn’t that the deal we made with the devil in the pale moonlight?

If you haven’t seen them, check out Dave, Chris, Colin, Michael OCC, Eric and Donna…anyone who has seen or even used them, what do you think?

Do they detract or distract from the content? Have you gotten so desensitised to ads that you’re just studiously ignoring them?

Before I give my two cents I have a confession. I was approached by Taxi to run ads and I turned them down. Ads on a PR blog seemed…not right. Then I was told how much it was for and I was tempted. Not a life changing amount, but enough to buy a PVR recorder and ignore more adverts (ironic huh) on TV. Then I saw something on WordPress’ terms of service about only for non-commercial use and the decision was made for me. I’m still not sure how I feel about. The money would be nice, but I’m not in it for the money. I’ve already been more than adequately compensated through a great job and an even better new career.

With that disclosure out of the way, here’s how I feel. First off, did CNW get good value for money? I’d say that the program is probably costing them around…well, a fair amount. Instead of hitting up half a dozen bloggers for ads, what if they had appraoched all the PR bloggers asking them to link to the game? If they had handled the outreach in a half competent manner (my experience with Taxi would suggest that, while unlikely, it’s not outside the realms of possibility) I’m sure they’d have had quite the link collection at the end of it.

As a company “serving” the PR industry, shouldn’t they have spent their marketing dollars to PR us, not on shilling us?

And what of the esteemed bloggers? What does their taking the almighty ad dollar tell us? I’ve been as big a supporter of the role PR in the realm of social media as it’s possible for a mid-level PR guy to be but this kind of takes the shine off it. Why should companies bother to earn coverage, links and conversation when they can just buy it? What example does it give to our clients when the people evangelizing the use of this new form of communication as a PR tool can be, themselves, bought?

Hard work pays off later; laziness pays off now…

Does even the act of taking adverts sully the excellent content these guys are producing for us, or is it a Darwinian way to weed out those not good enough to be considered for adverts (and who then lose interest)? Leaving the fact that they’re all PR (or in Donna’s case, communications) blogs, what about ads in general?

I started a blog to make the mistakes my clients wouldn’t have to, and I’d never recommend a client who wanted to start a thought leadership blog run ads. Yet Fred, Mathew and Mark all do. And Mark went to become a VP at a blogging network…Jaffe does; Seth doesn’t. Where’s the balance – is there even a balance, is it just personal choice?

Or maybe clients can use their own blogs/feeds to test their future marketing initiatives? What would you say to Michael or Mitch testing out a raft of new Scotiabank creative on their blogs/feeds?

I guess in the end the answer, as always is “it depends”.

So three defracted points of view from my perspective – the client, the reader and the flackette. But they’re all mine; not yours. What do you guys think?

*UPDATE* – Mitch has some interesting thoughts, while Colin’s encouraging everyone to share their POV’s as well. If you haven’t done so already, there’re some great points in the comment section here (including some comments longer than this post!).

One aspect of the discussion that hasn’t been broached yet is whether we should be experimenting with blogging as a “technology” or as a totally new approach to communication. If the answer is technology, then my esteemed colleagues are well within their rights to monkey around with their blogs/feeds etc as much as they want; if it’s as a new approach to communications then, to me, it feels like trying to fit old media practices into a new media platform.

Don’t take my word for it; check out what everyone else is saying as well.

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21 Responses to Ads on blogs?

  1. David Jones says:

    Excellent post. As one of the CNW ad-carrying bloggers, I can give you my personal perspective. Like you, I started blogging to learn, share and hopefully become a valuable resource on the subject to current and prospective clients.

    This learning has taken me down the advertising road as part of the great CNW experiment. (I should also let you know that they will be scheduling some sort of blogger roundtable in the near future to discuss ways in which they can be of value to bloggers.)

    Right now, I have the CNW banner ad and I’m experimenting with ads in my feed through Feedburner’s ad network. I have total control and I’m not committed to anything but the three months I’ve signed up with CNW for. My goal is to see what it looks like, feels like and smells like. Does it detract, does it enhance, do I lose readers or gain readers or does anyone even notice?

    I’m not precious about my blog. It’s my sandbox to bolt on all sorts of things, try them out, toss them out, mix and re-mix. I’m not blogging with a view to monetizing, and I’m quite comfortable covering my own costs for hosting, etc.

    I’ll give CNW credit for even considering Canadian PR bloggers as influential enough to want to partner with in this fashion. But I have to agree with you that if they spent their money and time creating an interesting blog, I bet they would have been just as well served. Whether this experiment pays off for anyone in the long haul is a wait-and-see at this point. I’ll have $900 of CNW’s money to show for it and we’ll also get a look at what CNW has to show for their spend as well.

  2. Ed Lee says:

    Nice comment, thanks Dave. Looking forward to seeing the stats that CNW will be sharing and seeing whether their rather old-school approach to new media pays off.
    I’ll hold off on adivising clients on running ads in their blogs for a few weeks though!

  3. Eden Spodek says:

    I’m a communications professional/web producer who blogs on the side for some of the very same reasons both of you do: try it out, mash it up, say what’s on my mind, learn what others think, check out the tools, and geek it up.

    Instead of going the consulting route, I decided to try something else I could be equally passionate about. I blog about shopping. I originally targeted at other woman like me: educated working moms who enjoy shopping and share tips, frustrations and sales info. both online and off. Thanks to coverage on other blogs, reader comments, StatCounter, Feedster and Technorati, I’ve learned my reach is broader and I hope it’s reflected in my posts.

    Initially, I decided not to have any advertising because I feared it would bias the discussion, add restrictions on what I could/couldn’t write and p-o members of the community.

    I’m not sure if that’s really the case but…
    When I’m online I ignore ads, don’t click thru and other blogs plastered with ads seem tacky (especially the shopping ones.) I may change my mind one day, but for now I’ll stick to the original plan. Unless of course, someone can convince me otherwise. 🙂

  4. Chris Clarke says:

    Great post, indeed. Nothing like challenging the Canadian PR blogosphere to defend their actions 😉

    I would have done it for free anyway. I mean, CNW wasn’t sure what they were getting themselves into, and I wasn’t sure what they had in mind, and since it didn’t take much work on my part to be “in”, I just went along for the ride. The money is an added bonus, but it’s not the reason I did it. I’ve never had ads on my PR blog, and I’m interested in how they actually work (because I really don’t understand the concept of someone making money off a mouse click when it’s probably either inadvertent or clickfraud).

  5. Colin McKay says:

    Good points, guys.

    Yes, I decided to carry the ad. I’ve never carried ads because I could never be guaranteed an ad program would deliver ads specific to my readership – the CNW ad hits that group square on the (nail) head.

    CNW should probably test several methods of increasing their contact with the online world. Ads are a start, but maybe a blog outreach program or even an internal blog can be a next step. For most everyone in the real world, we’re still in a time of baby steps – and baby tumbles.

    I have to disagree, though, with the concept that PR blogs should be some sort of “port in the storm.” The PR community is not going to maintain a long term postition of authority as the counsellor or expert in social media by avoiding integrated marketing.

    Advertising and marketing agencies are more than willing to demonstrate their long-standing expertise in audience segmentation, message development, vehicle execution and performance measurement.

    At the moment, PR blogs are quick to claim the moral and ethical high ground when faced with poorly thought-out blogs and splogs dreamed up by marketing teams.

    But those professions will learn – quickly.

    PR agencies have to diversify in their range of interest to become a central partner on social media campaigns that take advantage of PR, advertising, marketing and retail execution.

    In some cases, PR agencies will stumble. To wit: Edelman.

    If we do not adapt, we will lose our present competitive advantage in social media. The winner (in RFP showdowns, the bank account and in C-Suites) will be the media consultant who can demonstrate impact upon business and the bottom line.

  6. Ed Lee says:

    Indeed, good comments and insight from all.

    To summarize the discussion so far (if I may be so bold) – if PR really does hold a competitive advantage in all things social media, we should not be scared of integrated campaigns. We should at least kick the tires rather than dismissing it out of hand (I’ll hold my hand up to that one!).
    That’s the “macro” view; the question this has raised on a more micro level is “is this campaign part of an integrated campaign? Well, there are ads and there was, limited, blogger outreach.

    But what has the effect been? Well, we won’t know until the experiment is over but one thing I can tell you is that CNW isn’t on the front page (at the moment) for a search for “canadian press release distribution” or “canadian news release distribution”. To Colin’s point, doesn’t this hurt their bottom line and their business?

    Are the links going to CNW from the ad-carrying sites being penalised by Google’s indexing? I would hazard a guess that a wider amount of outreach, with no ad-buy would elevate CNW to the front page and front of mind for the rest of news release distributing community.

    So the wider ranging question is: will all the marketing disciplines get together, play nice and truley co-opertitionerate?


  7. Mitch Joel says:

    There is tons of food for thought here. Great post. I especially like the “admissions” that no one who took the ads actually click on other banner ads. It’s refreshing. I always click on banner ads, but I do it for all the wrong reasons – to see where it leads, to see the creative, to engage in the space I love. I rarely do it because I’m interested in the product/service being offered – but that’s more a statement to the creative and timing.

    I think we should ALL experiment as much as possible with this. Remember, the person who figures out how to monetize RSS will have the next Google AdWords on their hands. I also think Blogs NEED companies to take a roll with their Long Tail readers.

    Good on CNW and all the Bloggers who were asked to take the cash and engage.

  8. Ed – thanks for kicking this discussion off.

    It’s genuinely useful and valuable to follow your thinking out loud about this. I think there are echoes in your comments of many of the things we’ve all been trying to think through since we first started discussing this experiment back in June.

    A couple of comments above really resonate for me too. In particular, Dave’s point:

    “I’m not precious about my blog. It’s my sandbox to bolt on all sorts of things, try them out, toss them out, mix and re-mix. I’m not blogging with a view to monetizing, and I’m quite comfortable covering my own costs for hosting, etc.”

    …and Colin’s comment that: “The PR community is not going to maintain a long term position of authority as the counsellor or expert in social media by avoiding integrated marketing.”

    Amen to that.

    Your own last point, however, really highlights one of the most interesting things here for me.

    The lovely subtext running through a lot of this discussion riffs off the “integrated marketing communications” theme. It’s one of the reasons why the notion of the CNW campaign tickled me so much when Rob Jenkyn first came up with it: the whole mashed-up idea of PR people taking ads from a newswire service on their journalism-like personal publishing ventures – that’s just so deliciously meta-muddled, it’s hard not to like it. The lines are blurrrrrinnnnnggggg, baby.

    On a more serious note, I do want to echo what Chris Clarke said about the money being the least important part of this whole thing. In fact, Laurie Smith at CNW had initially proposed that we should make donations to the bloggers’ favourite charities instead of paying them directly.

    Perhaps we should have gone with that idea. It might have made things appear cleaner, although I’m sure there would still have been criticism. To be honest, I’ve never thought there was anything even remotely stinky about this anyway. The thought of the money never bothered me – and I know for a fact that I’d still be carrying the ad even if they hadn’t sweetened the deal with a little $$. Are my integrity filters in need of a scrub? I don’t think so. YMMV.

    So I want to challenge the notion that we were “bought”. Here’s one point to consider: not one of the bloggers included in the program had ever chosen to carry advertising prior to this campaign. In the past, I’ve been offered a lot more money than CNW is paying to carry an ad, and I’ve refused.

    In truth, when Rob first pitched this idea to me at our kids’ soccer game back in the summer, I told him flat out that I never carried ads and, while I’d help introduce him to some bloggers, I probably wouldn’t participate.

    What changed my mind? A number of things.

    In part, I think it’s something along the lines of Colin’s point – that CNW’s campaign is directly and obviously relevant to a good chunk of my readership. It’s the first time any advertiser has taken the time to think through what might matter to me.

    I can’t speak for anyone else who has chosen to participate. Indeed, I want to be particularly careful about citing others’ comments or thoughts. Unlike just about everyone else involved in this program, my blog isn’t primarily PR or communications-focused. Of late, the content is becoming increasingly wrapped up in what I do for a living – it’s inevitable that I tend to write most about the things that engage me most, and my job is really engaging me at the moment. But a lot of my readers still come from outside of the PR world. I didn’t start blogging in order to blog about PR, or even because I’m a PR guy. I started blogging to blog. The overspill from my dayjob kind of happened later.

    The point I’m trying to make is that my personal reasons for running the CNW ads may be very different from those of other participants. I guess it’s only fair to acknowledge that I was probably inclined to go with the program as much because of my great friendship with Rob Jenkyn as for any other reasons (fiscal or otherwise).

    But back to the main point: I think the primary reason I’ve chosen to carry the ads is that the entire campaign is just an interesting, innovative experiment – and it has helped me to have a more useful, more open, and more valuable discussion with CNW than I’ve ever had in 10 years of using their services.

    One final thought. I love the fact that (certain people at) Canada’s premier newswire service are awake to the notion that their business – as an essential intermediary between the PR industry and the news world – is facing seismic upheaval. That, to me, is one of the most significant driving factors in their decision to run this experiment. Worth noting, by the way, that at the social media conference Dave Jones and I co-chaired this week, there was a lady from CCN Matthews in the audience. Hmmm…

    FWIW, I’ve pitched the Mesh organizers on the idea of running a panel to address what’s happening in this space – pulling together some experts in the news distribution and disclosure circuits to debate the changes shaping our business. Imagine a group made up of CNW, CCN, a professional IR organization, a PR pro, maybe a business reporter and someone from an organization such as Sun. That could be really absorbing, IMHO. We’ll see what Mathew, Stuart, Mark, and the others think.

    Again – thanks for your insights, and for prodding this conversation along. Don’t you just love the fact that we have blogs, to help lift these useful discussions into the light?

  9. Ed Lee says:

    Mitch, thanks for adding your thoughts to the fray. In my new job I’m finding myself clicking through to a lot more microsites and marketing material as well (my work sheets probably reflect this most: industry reading and research is very prominent!)

    Michael, wow. I’ve had to read your comment a few times to make sure I picked up everything in there; its a lot.

    I’m not making an obdurate “blogs pure; ads bad” type statement, I’m just questioning the place of adverts on a PR medium. Yes PRWeek has adverts but they’re a business, we’re not and as I said, we (I’ve) already been paid.

    I also want to say I may have made a bit of a mistake in using the word “bought”; I never meant to attack your integrity. We don’t do ad hominem attacks here. Yet.

    However it was in the context of media exposure, as in “bought” vs “earned”. I’m not suggesting your future coverage of CNW, or for that matter CCN Matthews, has been bought with 30 pieces of silver but that CNW has bought coverage and links rather than earning them.

    Is the game compelling enough on its own to draw people to it? If not, surely advertising is “cheating”?

    I believe it’s the Ries double team that says PR builds brands; advertising maintains it. In this case, wouldn’t an initial media/blogger outreach program to publicise the game followed by the advertising component have worked better? Surely it’s this sort of PR led integrated marketing that we should be proposing to our clients/partners?

    Finally, and more interesting to me, is the reaction of the readers of your blogs. Have they clicked through in their droves or have they ignored, as many of us do, any and all advertising they see. No matter where it is.

    Also interesting to note that the blogs targeted aren’t all PR blogs. Donna is always very firm in saying she itsn’t a PR bunny like the rest of us, but a communications specialist and as you say, while you’re a senior PR, you’re hardly the atypical PR blogger either…just some semantics to fuel the “well targeted” fire.

    I don’t want to be unnecessarily contrarian but I do think there are some interesting questions that are raised by this campaign and that no one’s asked.

    And yes, I’m delighted to have a blog to ask the questions!

    So, for Michael, David, Colin, Chris, Eric and Donna’s readers who happen to venture down here, what do you think? How have the adverts effected your enjoyment of their content?

  10. Didn’t for a moment think you were launching an ad hominem there, Ed. Dear Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood (bubba dum bubba dum, bubba dum bubba dum dum…)

    I have to agree with you that the approach here is (to channel Ries) somewhat backwards – at least as far as the visible output is concerned. CNW have been making a few quiet efforts to engage with bloggers directly but, to David’s point, they haven’t yet convened the roundtable of influencers he proposed very early on in our discussions. I’m still hopeful that will happen in the not-too-distant future. I believe it would be of much more value to them (and to us) than the ad program alone.

    Meanwhile, we should be seeing the first summary reports of clickthrough traffic some time today (fingers crossed), so we’ll get an idea of how this campaign is working. If I get my report, and I can find some time between the new biz pitches, I’ll blog the results.


  11. Ed Lee says:

    So shall we say kudos for trying, but must try harder next time on the execution?

    On a lighter note, Duran Duran and the Animals quoted in the same discussion – we must be doing something right!


  12. “On a lighter note, Duran Duran and the Animals quoted in the same discussion – we must be doing something right!”

    Indeed. Although I actually had the Elvis Costello version running through my head when I was responding. Or was it Nina Simone’s original? Or the Popa Chubby version? Or…

  13. Laurie Smith says:

    Ed and everyone,

    Thanks so much for all of your comments and feedback here.

    Please keep in mind that this entire project is part of an ongoing experiment for CNW Group. As anyone who knows us well might be aware, we’ve been experimenting quite a bit lately with our marketing efforts. Our goal is simple: to better showcase our expanding services to the people who matter most to us – wherever they may be.

    Could we have found another way to reach you? Of course. Has this ad campaign been a mistake? In my opinion, no. (Though offering CNW up like this for open discussion in your blogs has been mildly terrifying.)

    The PR game was a delight to develop and I’m glad we did it. More importantly, getting to know the Canadian PR blog community has been well worth any effort. The road to here has been a terrific learning experience. I’m optimistic that our future projects will be better for it.

    The long-promised round-table event will occur in early January. If anyone outside of the core group currently hosting our wee ads would like to be a part of the discussion, please let me know. We’re eager to hear what you have to say.

    Again – thanks to all.

  14. […] Ed’s got a good conversation going about the propriety of Canadian PR bloggers hosting advertising by CNW. Here’s my comment: […]

  15. […] After CNW Group asked a few Canadian PR bloggers to put ads on their blogs, the bloggers started a discussion amongst themselves about the ethics of it all. I’ve been watching it from the sidelines. Here is my perspective. […]

  16. […] Ads on blogs? « Blogging Me Blogging You Ed Lee has some hard questions for his PR colleagues in Canada that have accepted advertising Canadian News Wire (CNW) (tags: PR blogging Canada) […]

  17. […] Trackbacks are a pretty nifty way of letting someone else know that you wrote a blog post about their blog post. For example, if I’m reading Ed Lee’s blog, and I see that he made a post about blogger advertising, and I disagree with his statements, rather than filling up Ed’s comments for that post with my argument, I decide to write my own blog post with my two cents, and reference Ed’s original post. Because Ed has enabled trackbacks on his blog, each post shows a list of other bloggers that have written about that article – so how do I get on that list? […]

  18. Fundraiser says:

    A few questions from a blog idiot

    How do you keep the spammers from eating you alive? i\’ve seen blogs with nothing but spam postings.

    How do you keep some left wing extremist from posting racist or defamatory rhetoric? and if you cant stop them, what are you legally liabel when they do?

    can viruses be posted to blogs?

  19. […] One of my favourite posts on the topic – by Mitch Joel and Ed Lee […]

  20. Quinton says:

    The real question here should be something like…

    Why do most people blog?

    If it is mearly to express an opinion then it is really up to the person blogging. If it it to have ads on the blog, then hey why not? The whole point of blogging is to get some idea out there for others to read, for the masses to see what you are thinking about. If you want to put ads on your blog then that is what you should do. If you want to put porn on your blog, then do that, just don’t expect to be taken seriously by anyone other that parverts.

    Any thoughts?

  21. […] To find more information from the source here […]

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