Home Lessons Learnt from People Ready Controversy

Lessons Learnt from People Ready Controversy

I know you don’t want to read another blog post about the People Ready controversy, which
was ignited by Valleywag on Friday US and turned into an all-in brawl over the weekend.
But I feel obligated to sum up my position on it, as one of the 6-7 bloggers at the
center of the storm. I
initially wrote a post about it
Saturday night my time (Friday night US). I defended
the ads, but I asked what R/WW readers thought of the situation – and boy did I certainly
find that out! Many of the comments on that blog post thought the People Ready ad was
wrong; and some people made very convincing arguments. A few people unfortunately
distorted the facts, but even those comments I read with interest and tried to respond. I
am grateful to all the readers who engaged me in conversation on this issue – some people
even followed up with emails. Although my basic position is unchanged and I will continue
to run the ads, I did learn some things along the way and I wouldn’t do it
exactly the same next time.

As with the reader feedback, I’ve also been following the feedback of the other
bloggers involved. Om Malik and Paul Kedrosky both wrote mea culpa posts and pulled the
ads. Fred Wilson defended the ads, as did Mike Arrington. Mike is never one to pull
punches, in fact he has been throwing
on this issue. And I support him on this (even though he might think he is in
this battle alone). Both of us are self-made publishers and blogging is our business –
and in that respect we are different from Fred and Paul, whose
blogs are more personal.

The Suntory Whiskey Lesson

So, the bottom line is that (like Mike and Fred) I have continued to run the People
Ready ads. But given that many R/WW readers said they didn’t like the ads, what – if
anything – have I learned from all this? Because although I don’t want people telling me
what to do – notably anybody preaching ethics from a high horse, whether it be a
journalist or blogger – I do want to listen to my readers and ensure I have
their support. So, to try and sum it up in one sentence, what would I do differently next
time? I wouldn’t use a corporate catchphrase!

I stand by my original position that the text I wrote for the Microsoft campaign was a
personal story of how I got into blogging – it was not a product endorsement or even
anything to do with Microsoft at all. And I was not paid for writing it, I was only paid
a CPM for the adverts that ran in our sidebar.

If I did think it had become a product endorsement, or indeed if I didn’t believe in
Microsoft’s products, then I would definitely stop running the ads. But I don’t think it
is a product endorsement at all – you only need to read my text to
see that – and I have nothing against Microsoft products (shocking as some of you might
think that sounds!). However… I did use the advert catchphrase “people ready” in my
text, which in hindsight was a mistake – and lame. Dan Farber, an experienced journalist
who I have a lot of respect for, summed it
up nicely
with this Bill Murray pic from one of my favorite films, Lost In

“Suntory whiskey. It’s People Ready!”

Point taken! So, now that I’ve clarified my position on the People Ready ad, what do I
think of the “conversational marketing” label that FM Publishing
has coined
? Well I am still keen and willing to experiment with new forms of
advertising – after all, blogs are a new form of publishing. But it’s also obvious that
this field has kind of a wild west aspect about it now, with some experiments bound to
fail. The People Ready one has ultimately failed (at least for the publishers, probably
not for Microsoft!). But unlike John Battelle, I don’t think that “disclosures” are the
answer. Because if there is an advert in the sidebar of a blog then – to my mind – it is
very obvious it is paid for. But there certainly needs to be more care taken by blog
publishers, such as myself, in deciding what to put our names to. In retrospect, using
the term “people ready” in an otherwise from-the-heart text was something I shouldn’t
have put my name to. Once again I turn to the wise head of Dan Farber to explain:

“This situation with the FM/Microsoft campaign is a slippery slope, but that
doesn’t mean conversational marketing doesn’t have value. There should be
dialog among all constituents, but the “people ready” campaign is a
manufactured dialog.”


At first I underestimated the issues involved in this, but after a lot of feedback
from R/WW readers and others in the blogosphere, I have learned that the issues are real
and need to be tackled. But there also has to be room for experimentation, because blog
publishing is not the same as traditional journalism. This is a new form of publishing,
which we’re making up as we go along.

The other FM publishers who took part in the
campaign are the same – we’re all independent publishers, and a few of us are working
extremely hard to build and run a professional publishing business. So we need to keep
taking risks, because that’s how you stay a step ahead of the competition. But of course
we must learn from our mistakes. I hope that doesn’t come across as too much of an Oprah
moment, or even a Jerry Springer post-show “Take care of yourself, and each other”
takeaway. But I did learn something amid all the brawling and bloodletting. And
conversations are always good 🙂

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