Under the Radar

I was struck by a quote by Weber-Shandwick’s web maven Robert Ricci in today’s Times coverage of last week’s Word of Mouth Marketing Association confab in Orlando.

“‘…do not try to be stealthy… If you’re working on a video game, and you go onto a video gamer’s blog, let your contacts know that you are an employee of said company,” Mr. Ricci said while leading a session titled “How to Work with Bloggers and Communities, the Ethical Way.” “Always let them know what your intentions are up front.”

Perhaps it was the “60 Minutes” segment several years ago that exposed one firm’s insidious tactic of hiring foils to go to trendy bars to promote some hopeful beverage brand. Wasn’t this the future of word-of-mouth marketing? Does BzzAgent, which recently raised 14 million dollars in VC money, subscribe to “the ethical way” preached by Mr. Ricci? Is it acceptable to contact an influential blogger posing as a consumer to secure attention from said blogger? Just how prevalent is the practice of marketing by deception and who are its purveyors?

As the PR industry continues to grapple with who leads and who follows in the blogger dance, I was encouraged by Rob’s mandate that transparency should trump stealthiness. Let’s hope the word-of-mouth from his panel catches on.