FTC, Bloggers & Publicists oh my!

Yesterday I attended the Publicity Club of Chicago's monthly lunch discussion. I never thought I'd say that because it was a room full of PR execs and while I do my fair share of publicity for feministy things, I just don't see myself as  PR person. That said, I had the luncheon info sent to me by one of the husband's coworkers and the AWJ-Chicago listserv. OK, I'll go!

And I'm really glad that I went. I totally felt like a mole because the topic was "Are Bloggers Journalists? Dealing with the Legal Implications of Today’s Media." Dum, de, dum! To top off the mole feeling was the fact that they start off the lunches with a few minutes of speed networking. "Hi, I'm Veronica a blogger." ha!

The panel was moderated by Paul Rand and had Esther J. Cepeda, Toure Muhammad and Daliah Saper as the experts. First props to the organizers for having such a diverse panel and an excellent moderator. They kept the conversation going, even if Daliah could have just given a lecture because she was the lawyer on the panel.

Considering the timing of the FTC guidelines release of last week, the conversation was heavily focused on that. Over at the Guardian, I got a lot of smack for calling myself a mommy blogger and asked why being a mommy blogger was relevant to the conversation. Well, even at this fab panel, mommy bloggers were still the main character in the conversation. I think that the media that mommy bloggers have received makes us an easy frame of reference. But it wasn't a bad thing either.

So what did I learn?

* Toure made a great point to remind us that blogging took off because so many of us were leary of corporate media. Many bloggers started off, including myself, as critiquing news segments. Now that we are seen as influential, whether we have 40 followers or Twitter or are an A+ list blogger, we have to remember that our credibility is connected to our transparency.

* Daliah talked a lot about how the guidelines may lead to a chilling effect in terms of publicity. The FTC guidelines not only spell out that bloggers are responsible for being transparent, but the publicists and marketers are responsible for screening us and making sure we are transparent. I immediately recalled the pic I snapped at Blogalicious of a sign reminding us that we need to be transparent. But she ended up saying that publicists shouldn't change their practices, other than screening us, and to just be honest.

* Esther stressed the fact that publicists should know the bloggers they are dealing with. "Read their blog, is that the person/outlet you want representing your brand?" And really, aren't we all saying that we're tired of getting pitches that say, "Dear blogger..." Now that the FTC will hold publicists to a higher standard, we might get less pitches, but more meaningful pitches.

* Toure took us on a history lesson by connecting this current moment with multiple other moments when the line between advertising and editorial content were debated in media. We need to see bloggers are tiny media outlets. Instead of having Jane in advertising and Veronica in editorial working here, we have just Veronica accepting the advertising pitches and the editorial. I know that I won't be asked to join ABC campaign because I blog about how sexist ABC is as a company.

* Now Esther took on the "what about the TV, newspapers and magazines" question. I believe her answer was as simple as they have editors who watch out for liable AND that those journalists aren't relying on free products for income. If I got that wrong, I'm sure she'll let me know. But is that true? Is anyone really milking this for real income? I think a few elite ones are. I hear that some of the original Wal-Mart Moms have made a living out of being faces for brands. But I'd love to hear from y'all.

* The only jaw-dropping moment for me was that Daliah said that Google bombing could be seen as trademark infringement. Perhaps this is old news to some of ya, but not for me. So blogging about product X and then linking to their competitor is clearly trademark infringement. But remember back when bloggers linked pro-choice orgs to George W. Bush? I wonder what the courts would say about that if we linked say Planned Parenthood to a named crisis pregnancy clinic?

* Daliah was mad smart. I'd love to organize a discussion night with her and a few bloggers, especially some of us activist bloggers who might be skirting legal issues. We may still skirt them, but at least we'll know what we're up to.

* Daliah also said that the legal ramifications are piling up quickly with social media and employment. Can you prove discrimination because your Facebook profile is public and outs you as a minority or lesbian and you don't get hired? Who owns your LinkedIn contact list if you use it for work purposes? At that point my mind was spinning.

* But Esther had a great message for the publicists. You can't control your message anymore. You can control who you work with, but not the message.
     It was a lot of fun and hopefully you also learned a bit of what is going on in the minds of publicists.

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