‘Pay to Play’ OK in the Digital World?
While the trade-show video example is more obvious as ‘pay to play,’ is it really much different than other practices that are becoming the norm?
If you keep looking, the water just gets murkier. Let’s say your sponsor is on the panel, but your editors direct the content. In trying to do their jobs, the editors line up third-party speakers to present a balanced view of the topic, and one of these third-party speakers mentions another vendor (not the sponsor). You can see a whole new set of problems emerging, with sponsors demanding more control over the webinar content, and relationships between salespeople and sponsors being damaged if “the sponsor’s” webinar mentions any competitors. Mixing editorial control and advertiser control is like mixing oil and water.
But, as ASBPE noted in the name of its session, digital products are “a different ball game.” Most editors know print. In print, the ethical separation of church and state has had very clear guidelines for eons. That’s not the case with digital.
CAN PRINT’S STANDARDS APPLY?
Step back for a minute and look at your print publications: Every issue has sponsors. Do they get placed in your articles just because they are sponsors? And, look at the controversy that arose when Target sponsored an entire issue of The New Yorker, running cartoon ads throughout the issue … and Target wasn’t even given editorial coverage (no “seat on the panel”).
While the ASBPE has some great guidelines in its “Guide to Preferred Editorial Practices,” it doesn’t yet address church-state issues in video, webinars or podcasts.
This is a new frontier, and the sooner the industry can come together to set some standards, the better our digital content will be and the stronger our position in the diversifying media world.