Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Amazing Michigan? Not so fast

Fellow MI bloggers, I assume you all got this email too:
Hi, Kathleen.

I'm writing from Hass MS&L Public Relations in Ann Arbor. We're trying to let people know about a new blog that launched today: Michigan is Amazing (michiganisamazing.com).

The purpose of Michigan is Amazing is to bring to everyone's attention all the great things about our state. While a creative agency will be supplying the content for the blog initially, it's the site's users that will become the content providers * and, through a ratings system, judge which stories are the best. The blog's categories are People, Places, Things, Events and Organizations. Users can use the blog to let everyone know about the things they think are special about Michigan using text, images or video.

All users who submit valid entries will receive a small gift, and all those who have posts published on the blog will win a free t-shirt. The best entry of each month will win the blogger an amazing Michigan-themed gift basket loaded with a variety of prizes.

We're trying to get the word out and we hope you'll let your readers know. Just for spreading the word we'd like to send you a small gift.

Thanks for your time. Please let me know if you have any questions.


Melanie Seasons
Word of mouth marketing, baby
So what's this all about? A google search on Hass MS&L turns up this from the Center for Media and Democracy's SourceWatch: "David Binkowski from Hass MS&L is scheduled to appear on a panel "How to Create Great Corporate Blogs That Get People Talking" at the Word of Mouth Marketing Association conference in Orlando, Florida, January 20, 2006"

Ah, so that's it -- a Great Corporate Blog that'll get us Michiganders talking. But when I checked out the new blog for a sign of a corporate presence, I found nothing, other than a "sponsored link" from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. And indeed, when I clicked on "Send Us Your Amazing Finds," then "click here to read the rules," I read this:
Contest Eligibility: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan does not determine the submissions posted to “Michigan is Amazing” or the winner of the monthly contest ...
The agency MS&L, which acquired Hass in 2002, has a lengthy list of health care clients (although I don't see BCBSM on the list right now). Looking at the news area of their site, their expertise seems to be in positioning Big Pharma in the face of all its litigation and regulatory issues. Digging further, I found that David Binkowski heads up Hass MS&L Blogworks and is a member of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, where his page explains:
... Hass MS&L has successfully worked with global clients to launch corporate blogs and to deal with the issues they raise. And our marketing outreach practice connects influential consumers with new products and helps spread awareness through these new media.
A notable success for Blogworks is the much-praised FastLane Blog from GM chief Bob Lutz.

So what's the problem?
What's wrong with all of this? I work in marketing communications. I understand that you can hardly get a better product endorsement than one that's person-to-person, or word of mouth. And I'm a blogger -- don't I believe in the power of blogs to spread the word, rally people for causes, inform us on issues, etc., etc., etc.? Of course. Still, here's what grinds me about this pitch:
  • I'm asked to "spread the word" about a new blog that appears to have no real reason for being, no author, no sponsor, no voice -- and therefore not much reason to engage. (Content's kinda lame, too, but there is potential there, if people participate. It's about Michigan, afterall!)
  • Prizes for blogging? Even a gift to me for "spreading the word?" Please!
  • The initial complete and utter lack of transparency on the part of Melanie Seasons as to who is sponsoring the blog.
  • The initial complete and utter lack of transparency on the blog itself as to who is behind it.
Conversation goes two ways
Yeah, I know word of mouth marketing is the thing these days. But if markets are conversations as we read in Cluetrain, this one-way deal isn't the way to go about it. And it's certainly not what blogging is about. There needs to be an exchange going on here -- honest, open, no holds barred. And prizes and gifts don't count.

A word to BCBSM -- if you want to engage bloggers in a folksy, feel-good conversation about how great Michigan is, we'd be more than happy to talk, even spread the word. But take the mask off first. Be up front with us. If you don't, the words we spread likely won't be the ones you had in mind.

SourceWatch had more on Hass MS&L: See the subhead Driving Bloggers Pro-War Coverage

It occurred to me after reading Christine's comment (she didn't receive this email), that maybe Hass MS&L found me through my other blog, Things I've Seen. So I've cross-posted this entry there.


Anonymous Christine said...

Well I am hurt. I did NOT get that email. (yikes! Maybe they've read my blog)

I think it's a good idea ... blogs like this are a good way to build your rep & cred as a blogger. But I'm with you ... let's be up front about who we are. Readers want to know who is writing. Bloggers want to know who they're writing for. jmho.

I wonder what's in the gift basket. Cherries and ...???

10:28 PM  
Blogger kathleen said...

... and fudge, no doubt. lol. I doubt that I'll get any gift from them for "spreading the word."

10:35 PM  
Anonymous Melanie Seasons said...


We've added an About Us page (http://michiganisamazing.com/about_us.php) to the site to answer your questions and those of other bloggers about the sponsorship of the site, which are valid ones. We didn't mean to be secretive; our agency developed the blog for Michael Flora & Associates, which does work for BCBSM. But, as Tom Brzezina says in the About Us page, BCBSM has no active role in the site, other than sponsorship. I hope you'll consider contributing.

Thanks again for your time,

10:16 AM  

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