New Ethics Guidelines for Webinars Announced
As more business-to-business media companies offer webinars as part of their product mix, questions have arisen about proper ethical guidelines for editors and publishers. In response, the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE) this week added a webinar ethics section to its Guide to Preferred Editorial Practices.
The guidelines seek primarily to help publishers wrestling with the question of editorial involvement in sponsored webinars when the sponsor determines the content, according to Howard Rauch, chair of the ASBPE's ethics committee.
"There is considerable [business-to-business] marketing attention being devoted to developing and maintaining this [webinar] format in terms of revenue potential," Rauch notes. "In many cases, sponsored webinars—as opposed to editorially driven webinars—are getting the most play. A key benefit of creating guidelines is that the process requires the publisher team to anticipate and deal with possible hurdles."
The guidelines distinguish between "editorial controlled webinars," where editorial staffs decide topics, participants and agendas, and "non-editorial controlled webinars," in which such control is ceded to a sponsor.
The guidelines for non-editorial controlled webinars read: "Even if the material presented is instructive in nature, such webinars must be treated as paid or bartered content. Editorial staff members must not be directly involved in the creation or production process. Further, editors should not participate in the 'live' webinar, including introducing, moderating, or speaking. For non-editorial-controlled webinars, the publisher or a member of the sales staff, or other non-editorial staff person is the appropriate choice for moderator."
Such practices prevent editors from seeming to endorse one company, advertiser, method or idea over another, Rauch points out.
"An editor who participates as moderator may be required to read some promo copy describing the sponsor's products and services. We don't think that's a good idea," he says. "Furthermore, as one our committee members recently pointed out to me, once an editor plays moderator for one advertiser, every competitor feels entitled to the same arrangement. Obviously that situation can become a real can of worms."
Rauch recommends the moderator state clearly that the webinar is sponsor-generated in his or her introductory remarks. This is in keeping with the Society's existing ethics guidelines for special advertising sections and supplements, which states ad sections and supplements "should be clearly labeled with the word 'advertising,' 'advertisement,' 'sponsored by,' or similar designation."