Wednesday, October 21, 2009

More info on the new FTC rules regarding blogger relations

The Council of Public Relations Firms has a list of "10 Things PR firms Should Be Doing in Response to FTC Changes."

Also, the Inside PR podcast has a discussion about the new FTC rules and implications. Listen to episode 174 (October 14, 2009).

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

PRSA Responds to FTC's New Rules for Blog-Marketing

The following is a bulletin just sent to PRSA members from Michael Cherenson, APR, PRSA chair (who visited our chapter last year). He presents a clear analysis of the new FTC guidelines.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued final changes to its Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. While advisory in nature, the new guidelines will reset standards of behavior that public relations, marketing and advertising professionals should adopt to avoid violating underlying laws against unfair competition and false advertising.

The guide changes, as set out in the FTC's notice, make three key departures from previous guidance that could impact public relations practice:
  • The FTC advises that "endorsers" as well as advertisers can be held liable for false or unsubstantiated claims or for failing to disclose material connections between the parties.
  • The guides no longer offer the "safe harbor" whereby testimonials can be qualified by a "results may vary" disclaimer.
  • Regarding endorsements, the guides specify that celebrities should disclose relationships with advertisers.

While the FTC will approach each potential violation on a case-by-case basis, the new guidelines will impact how professionals should approach some common practice scenarios. Here are some applications of the guidelines: 

  • Bloggers who receive cash or in-kind payment (including free products or services for review) are deemed endorsers and so must disclose material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.
  • Any firm that engages bloggers by paying them outright to create or influence editorial content or by supplying goods or services to them at no cost may be liable if the blogger does not disclose the relationship.
  • Advertisements or promotions that feature a consumer who conveys his or her experience with a product or service as "typical" should clearly disclose what results consumers can generally expect or specify how the results were unique to the individual circumstances.
  • If research is cited in an advertisement or promotion, any sponsorship of the research by the client or the marketer should be clearly disclosed.
  • Celebrities who make endorsements outside the context of traditional ads, such as on talk shows or in social media, should disclose any relationship with the advertiser or marketer.

From an ethics perspective, the new guidelines parallel key transparency principles in the PRSA Code of Ethics, as well as Professional Standards Advisory PS-9 condemning "pay for play" practices. However, for practitioners, the guidelines go beyond ethics to recommended practice to avoid legal liability. While the ethics are clear, the triggers and nature of adequate disclosure are not fixed. As I recommended in a recent PRSAY blog post, thorough understanding and self-regulation can help public relations professionals avoid legal repercussions.

While the guidelines are advisory in nature, failure to comply increases the risk of professionals finding themselves in violation of the law. Moreover, non-compliance can result in a communication from the FTC warning professionals against the potential offending action. If that warning is not heeded, it may be followed by a cease-and-desist order. Intentional violation of that order may result in referral to FTC enforcement, which may include civil monetary penalties.

  There has been information circulating publicly on the new guidelines that is confusing and conflicting. With this notice, PRSA hopes to bring members up to date on the facts as currently understood. This information is based on FTC documents and an in-depth conversation with a Commission staff attorney. Going forward, PRSA will continue to provide you with information, clarification, case studies and interpretations as they unfold.
Best regards,
Michael Cherenson, APR

Sunday, October 04, 2009

by Deborah Charnes Vallejo, Bromley Communications

On the eighth anniversary of the September 11 tragedy, 1300 people from more than 50 countries gathered in Mexico City as part of the 62nd Annual United Nations DPI NGO Conference. The theme was Disarm Now, a familiar topic to many of the participants that had been witnesses to the effects of armed conflict or violence.

While disarmament is complex and challenging, the president of Mayors for Peace, Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, said at the closing ceremonies that he is “confident we can abolish nuclear weapons by 2020. We have the power, and responsibility, to accomplish it. The message of Hiroshima is no one else should ever suffer.” Close to 64 years after the atom bomb killed 40 percent of its population, Mayor Akiba claimed the success of his city was due to the power of the citizens: a “groundswell of public opinion” can make the difference.

Among the proposed action items discussed at the conference were routine elements of public relations campaigns.

“Disarmament must be visible to the public,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. “You can make it happen…rally the world around these areas. The mightiest voice of all is the power of the people.”

Marcia Lorena Miranda, a panelist from Nicaragua, exhorted all to involve and mobilize the community.

As successful examples of community involvement, one workshop showcased how art can educate the public and create lasting icons to keep disarmament top of mind. Representatives from The Ribbon International Peace Project, Women’s Caucus for Art and DJs Contra La Fam concurred that when people express themselves through the arts, it changes their thought process.

Conference-goers had their own chance to participate in a community art project. The morning of September 11, a Peace Pole was unveiled in the Alameda, Mexico City’s sprawling park that sits between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Palace of Fine Arts and the Diego Rivera Mural Museum. As reporters and cameras documented the unveiling of an obelisk inscribed with calls for peace, attendees affixed colorful ribbons with their personal messages. The monument will travel to other venues as a symbol of peace to generate ongoing exposure and participation.

“Whatever you produce has meaning,” said one of the artist-activists. “We can create a strong voice – a collective voice.”

Jody Williams, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate from the United States, recalled her early experiences with the Cold War. “As a grade school child we’d hear a buzz…crouch under our desk or file in order, calm, into the gym,” she said. “I wanted my family to have its own bomb shelter…But would I even want to survive (if) the world as I knew it would be destroyed? It is absurd that any child in the world has to think about that.”