Blogonomics: Conflicts of Interest

Dan Abrams’ new shop — a kind of Gerson Lehrman for media professionals — claims that it will "bend over backwards to make sure that there are no conflicts or ethical issues that arise", but that hasn’t stopped Gawker’s Ryan Tate, for one, pointing out that conflicts will be unavoidable.

I’m interested by the presence of a couple of blogospheric luminaries at Abrams Research: Rachel Sklar and Lockhart Steele are both smart picks for anybody wanting the firm to be ahead of the curve when it comes to new media. If I were in their shoes, I’d be agitating strongly for Abrams to dispel charges of conflicts of interest wherever possible through the use of complete transparency. Consider one of the things Abrams says his company is likely to end up doing:

If a company faces a difficult public-relations issue, Mr. Abrams says, he might marshal a mock jury of bloggers, TV personalities and newspaper or magazine editors to weigh in on how media outlets would likely respond to different PR strategies.

The client is going to want the bloggers on any such panel to sign confidentiality agreements. That’s fine — but those confidentiality agreements should specifically exclude (1) any information which has been made public, and (2) the fact that the blogger in question was on the panel.

What that means is that when the story breaks, the blogger in question can write about it, with full disclosure. And an enlightened company would want the blogger to do so — they don’t want the public thinking that they have anything to hide. It’s pretty much unthinkable that any mock jury of bloggers and editors will ever recommend that a company keep information secret, and in fact the company will have no problem at all with the people who know the story best — the people on the panel — to be out there talking about it, rather than uninformed knee-jerk types. I don’t think that Abrams, with his yoga moves, should try to prevent that: he should just make sure that the commentator’s paid relationship with the company is always and prominently disclosed.

In any case, there’s certainly no conflict of interest involved in, as Sklar says, things like advising a company on how to start and operate a blog. Which means that for the chosen friends of Sklar and Steele, there might now be one more way of monetizing their blogging experience. Which in this job market is no bad thing.

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