Friday, October 9, 2009

What Do the New FTC Guidelines Mean for Paid Media Spokespeople?

Much has been said this week about the FTC's new guidelines requiring bloggers to disclose their affiliation with companies giving them products to review or paying them to review or promote them. The guidelines also require celebrity endorsers to "disclose their relationships with advertisers when making endorsements outside the context of traditional ads, such as on talk shows or in social media."

I'm wondering if this ruling applies to non-celebrity spokespersons, too -- people like me, who are often hired by consumer products companies to represent their brands in media interviews that require someone with in-depth knowledge of a specific topic. These non-celebrity spokespersons tend to be authors or other experts who are in a position, because of their topic expertise, to help communicate a brand's message in a way that a staff spokesperson can't.

Publicists have been more transparent about these sponsorships when booking interviews for their outside spokespeople so that the producers, reporters, and others scheduling the interviews understand that there is an "agenda" involved. But the media outlets rarely share this information with readers or viewers because the spokespeople are well-trained to present information that is relevant and helpful in a non-promotional way. A spokesperson interview shouldn't be any different from another interview where the source refers to a specific brand, program, or product.

Will this change in light of this new ruling? Will talk show hosts, for example, have to add that the guest is paid to share information? If that happens, it will probably do more harm than good. These articulate and informative spokespeople are an excellent source of content for the press, and are very good at communicating a message without sounding like advertisements. They provide information that audiences need and want. Does the average viewer care that a particular product or company paid to get that information out there? I doubt they care anymore than they care that companies pay movie production companies to work their products into storylines or include them in movie settings. I suspect the consumer response to this type of topic is "Yawn."

But what do you think? Do we need to know if any type of outside spokesperson is paid? Does it make a difference in how you view the information that's offered?

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