Corporate Sponsorship: Blood and Wine

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post outlining some of my thoughts about corporate sponsorship. Shortly after that, wine blogger Steve Heimoff wrote a good follow up post musing about what corporate sponsorship for a wine blog might look:

"This may work in the entertainment industry, but it’s not clear to me that it can succeed in wine. For one thing, why would a non-wine industry corporation sponsor a wine blogger?"

I don't know a great deal about wine, but I do know that there are probably plenty of companies that would like to be aligned with a wine blog. For as long as there have been people reviewing things, there have been people providing them with free versions.  Movie reviewers get free passes to opening night, car magazines are frequently invited to test drive new vehicles and I'm sure that video game magazines and blogs are given consoles and games for free.

What I like about Steve's blog post about wine sponsorship is the discussion it created, particularly one comment by Charlie Olken: "An online blog with sponsorship is a magazine."

While part of me wants to disagree with Charlie and say "a blog is a blog, not a magazine," I'm also inclined to agree with him.

As I've mentioned above, magazine editors and writers frequently receive free goods to review in their publication. They have to be ensure that their reviews aren't unduly influenced by the swag, as they have a responsibility to their readers. Similarly, I think that Charlie is saying that a blogger has a responsibility to his readers as well.

He also makes a good point that unpaid bloggers blog for the love of it, adding that...

"....When someone is paying you to reach a set number of eyeballs on a schedule with minimum number of words, your world will change. For guys like Steve and me and others of us who comment here, we are already in that boat with out day jobs. When you get paid to blog, that becomes your day job."

Related is the tale of Gawker Media allowing Blood Copy, an adverblog created by a PR/Advertising agency working on behalf of the HBO Television series True Blood, to "join" its network. This is clearly advertising content, not represented as such and generally seen as a huge fail by both the editors of the various Gawker blogs and their readers.

Annalee Newitz, the editor of i09 ("strung out on sci-fi" - part of the Gawker network and by far my favorite blog these days), writes of the debacle:

"I know it is wearying to see ads masquerading as editorial, and it's especially difficult for us at io9 since we've been covering the show True Blood for over a year without any incentive other than the fact that it's part of our beat...Blood Copy's ads, however, are not clearly marked as advertising and that is the problem. We're not happy with that, and you shouldn't be either. But that isn't going to stop us from covering a show that we think is worth critical attention. Please learn to be a critical reader yourself...The point is, we're not going to change our coverage of a media property just because somebody paid to put an ad on our site."

Gawker as an organization clearly agrees with this, writing that "Gawker the editorial staff and Gawker the advertising staff don't tell each other much about what they're doing. And they shouldn't."

I understand why some readers might be upset advertising copy making its way into their favorite blogs. But I also understand that someone needs to pay for the cost of keeping the lights on at these blogs and if HBO wants to foot the bill as a way of promoting their show, I'm glad.

Does this change your opinion of the way corporations should sponsor blogs?


The Magazine Biz

Magazines and newspapers are cutting staff. Ebook readers grow in popularity and functionality. Environmental concerns begin to outweigh the need to print out such disposable items like magazines and newspapers. There isn't really much of a future for the print industry, is there?

Actually, I think there is. And while I think that the discussion about what newspapers will evolve into is certainly worth having (I personally think that they will come to resemble blogs more and more just as the top blogs will come to resemble newspaper website, blurring the line), I'm not going to get into it now.

Instead I'm going to talk about magazines.

I love reading magazines and I buy them all the time. My preferred publications are normally surfing magazines, but I also buy RADAR if it looks like an interesting issue. Since my roommate subscribes to Toronto Life, I'll often read that (along with Fashion, the magazine that accompanies it). When the mood strikes us, we'll also sometimes pick up Vanity Fair. I've even seen a few copies of GQ lying around my other roommate's room but he doesn't seem to read them when I'm around.

The point is that there is still a market for these. People like the tangible feel of a magazine. "I love magazines," writes Alana Taylor, lamenting the discontinuation of one of her favorite magazines. "I still would like to write for one and I still enjoy buying & reading them and I still love ripping out pictures to create collages on my bedroom wall."

I've heard people remark before that the reason newspapers have failed to adapt to the internet era is similiar to the way the horse and buggy industry failed to adapt to the era of the motorcar and steam train. Rather than seeing themselves in the transportation business, the horse and buggy industry saw themselves as being what was an increasingly unfashionable horse and buggy business. Similarly, newspapers saw themselves as being in the newsaper business (rooted in paper publications), rather than in the news gathering and distribution business.

I think it is interesting that a few people have used similiarly equine analogies to describe the magazine industry. Former Conde Nast editor James Truman likens magazines to horses in that they used to be something that everyone could afford and that were enjoyed and used by the masses and are now increasingly becoming a luxury item. Along the same lines,  Howard Junker, editor of ZYZZYVA apparently compared magazines to ponies in that they don't serve any real purpose but people keep them around because they like to look at them.

Truman thinks that the direction the magazine industry will take is to offer even more luxurious, glossy and otherwise tactile objects of luxury such as those created by fashion icons like Karl Lagerfeld ("a ninja" as Truman refers to him). As a firm believer in the idea that science-fiction often provides a prescient glimpse as to what our future might hold, I think it is worthwhile taking a look at the book Grey by Jon Armstrong. In it, the main character continues to buy magazines despite the fact that he lives in a futuristic, connected world extrapolated a few years down the road from our own.

This model doesn't apply only to fashion magazines - I recently bought a $15 magazine about Metal Gear Solid 4 because it offered such great art and compelling articles. When I lived in Australia, I used to buy a magazine called Monster Children. This skate and surf mag was printed in a unique format (length-wise, so that the spine was on the shorter side) on high-quality paper and always had amazing photos and graphic design. In fact, their team must have had high standards when it came to accepting advertisements because all of them were also beautiful from an art perspective.

The magazines' websites then become promotional material for the actual publications. Pages and pages of advertising might become a thing of the past as companies either create their own publications or work more directly with the writers and editors to see their product or service featured, perhaps going as far as to sponsor certain sections. I'd see no problem with this, as magazines have always been a vehicle for delivering advertisements.

Do you still read magazines? Which direction do you think the industry will go in?

-Parker Mason

Friday Morning Highlights

I was going to write a full-on blog post this afternoon, but I think I got too much sun today so I'm going to leave you with a couple of other posts I think you should read: -David Meerman Scott has a great post about personal branding and Twitter - it was so great that I shared it with some of my coworkers, then immediately realized that my own Twitter page isn't exactly up to par (I'm working on it!).

-io9 makes the point that web-series are the new direct-to-dvd. The example that they use is for a series called The Artifact that is being offered on YouTube and on the show's website. I think that's just a great way to repackage something, and it will actually make me (a guy that doesn't have a tv at home) more likely to watch it.

-Our favorite PR Maven has some good advice for young job-seekers (in the field of PR or not): don't skip the "interests" section on your resume. This is your chance to stand out.

Until next time...

-Parker Mason