Dear FTC: Is This the Kind of Thing You Want Me to Disclose?

I go back and forth on the new blogger disclosure rules the FTC rolled out last week. Part of me thinks the agency is trying to boil the ocean, and without any good reason — even if a blogger runs a post at the behest of a sleazy marketers, who really cares? On the other hand, there really are some sleazy marketers out there — so many that letters like this one, which popped into my inbox this morning, don’t even raise an eyebrow.

Hi Peter,

My name is [Redacted] and I’m working with the ad:tech team on the social media outreach and promotion for ad:tech New York. ad:tech recognizes that you are a key influencer in the digital marketing community, and as such, I’d like to see if you are interested in a promotion exchange.

ad:tech will provide:

  • Twitter announcement of your involvement with ad:tech New York to our 6,800+ followers.
  • Your choice of: a free pass to the exhibit hall (valued at $35) or 35% off a full conference pass.

*If you are already registered or can’t make it to the event, you can offer it as a prize to your network, give it to a friend or client….It is completely transferrable.

We ask you provide:

  • No less than 3 posts about ad:tech New York on Twitter, Facebook or your blog. Suggested postings: a session you’re interested in, why you like ad:tech, the exhibitors that you want to see or technologies that you are interested in learning about. What you share is up to you – it just needs to be posted by November 1.

Interested in writing a blog post and would like additional information on ad:tech? Quotes, photos, interviews, ideas, etc. will happily be offered with request.

To redeem the offer:
Share 3 posts about ad:tech, then email me, [X]@ad-tech.com, with links/screenshots by November 1.

  • Tell me how you’d like ad:tech to promote your involvement with the event at the show.
  • Let me know if you’d like the free expo pass or the 35% discount on the conference.

Please let me know if this is something that you are interested in or if you have any questions?

Thank you for your continued support of ad:tech. I hope to meet you in New York!

[Redacted]
Social Media Outreach
ad:tech

Well. Flattery is always a nice approach, so I’m pleased to hear about my influencer status. Also, it’s nice that the ad:tech team is willing to provide “ideas” for me upon request.

Alas, even if I wanted to take ad:tech up on its offer here, the Dow Jones Code of Conduct would prevent me from doing so.

But this letter does generate two questions for me:

  • Is my work nearly worthless? Or pretty valuable? Three posts is a little less than a day’s work for me. ad:tech says that’s worth either $35 (a free expo pass) or up to $558 (35% of the highest price for an ad:tech conference pass). That’s a big swing!
  • I know there are a lot of “social media experts” out there, because there are a lot of them following me on Twitter. But I don’t really know what they do. Is this it? That can’t be right. Can it?

Anyway, this kind of thing always makes we want to pull up a Glengarry Glen Ross clip. There isn’t a direct connection, mind you. Just a vibe.

TBG’s Andrew MacDowell to Discuss Social Action Network Strategy at AAPC Conference

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The Bivings Group’s Director of Client Services Andrew MacDowell will be speaking at the Association of American Political Consultants conference Monday to address the success and strategy behind social action networks such as the one built around the Pickens Plan.

The conference, held in Washington, features industry leaders in political consulting who work to optimize political campaign power both on and offline.

TBG has worked since summer 2008 on the Pickens Plan and its social action network, Push, an online community of over 200,000 members. The Push “New Energy Army,” along with other active users on the Pickens Plan site, have sent over one million messages to legislators and media decision makers pushing energy independence. The Plan was also honored as AAPC’s Best Public Affairs Campaign of the year.

For those attending the conference, MacDowell will be featured in Monday’s 11:00 a.m. session on “Consultant Case Studies.”

iTunes Michael Jackson Policy: Want the Song? Buy the Album.

michael-jacksonWant to get Michael Jackson’s new single? You will be able to get it on iTunes this month, contrary to earlier reports. But there’s a catch: you’re going to have to buy some of the late singer’s other songs, too.

That’s the pact that Apple (AAPL) and Sony (SNE) have reached this week over the upcoming release of the Jackson’s newest stuff: Anyone who wants to buy a copy of “This Is It,” the song, via iTunes will also have to buy some version of “This Is It,” the album.

Here’s the official word from Apple, following a couple day’s worth of erroneous and confusing reports (one of which I wrote):

We look forward to offering the new Michael Jackson album, as well as a digital-only EP with six previously unreleased tracks, providing fans a great way to get all of the new songs. The iTunes Store will offer the album-only single “This Is It” on both the album and EP starting October 26.

To spell that out: Apple will not be selling the single by itself.

That’s unusual arrangement for Apple, which generally insists that labels sell their music on a track-by-track basis. If the labels had their way, they would consistently force customers to buy an entire album for $10 or more. No word on pricing yet, but it’s a fair bet to assume that even the six-song EP will sell for more than $1.29, Apple’s highest price for an individual song.

Apple does make an occasional exception here and there. For instance, many of the songs on iTunes soundtracks are only available as part of an album. But while “This Is It” does accompany a movie by the same name, it’s not technically a soundtrack, so that’s not what’s going on here.

Sony has sold a staggering amount of Jackson’s stuff since his death last summer, so it’s possible that Apple is simply trying to take advantage of what appears to be insatiable demand. But that doesn’t sound right to me: Even a huge hit on iTunes does very little for Apple’s books.

My guess: Apple maintains a vise-grip on the digital sales, but every now and then it likes to throw the labels a bone. For instance, it used to insist that all of the labels sell all of their songs for 99 cents, but earlier this year Apple changed its policy, and now offers three different price points.

NBC Cleans Up its Earnings Act for Comcast

zuckerAfter a couple of miserable quarters, NBC Universal and Jeff Zucker finally have some good news to announce: Earnings actually increased in Q3, even though the entertainment conglomerate’s revenues kept dropping.

The numbers, via parent company GE’s (GE) release this morning: NBC U posted a $732 million operating profit, up 13% year-over-year, on revenues of $4 billion, which are down 20%.

Perhaps those numbers will cheer Comcast (CMCSA) investors, who have been beating up the cable company ever since news of its talks to buy NBC U surfaced last month.

GE usually spends very little time discussing NBC U’s performance during its earnings calls, since investors are much more concerned with the rest of the company’s performance, and in particular its troubled finance arm. But perhaps the pending Comcast deal will change that this time around. I’ll tune in to the 8:30 call and report back with any updates.

Conde’s Cuts Come to Vogue

conde-nast-buildingAs expected, Conde Nast executives are swinging the layoff axe around the fabled magazine publisher. Today’s cuts are at Vogue, where I’m told at least 6 people have been let go from one of the company’s best-known titles.

There will be more to come at the publisher, which shut down four magazines last week and is trying to bring down costs at its remaining titles by 25%. “Everybody’s tense and anxious here,” says a still-employed Conde Nast worker. “A terrible environment. We know the layoffs are coming but don’t know how many or when.”

Statement from Conde spokeswoman Maurie Perl:

We announced last week when we closed the four titles that there would be companywide expense cost reductions and some workforce reductions in association with the 2010 budget process.  These Vogue layoffs are  part of that and we have no further comment on the subject.

A reminder: Vogue’s September 2007 issue was supposedly the biggest in magazine history, and its production has been chronicled in a documentary you can see in theaters today. But Vogue’s September 2009 issue’s ad count was down more than 50% compared to the previous year.

We Are The World! Sony, Michael Jackson’s Estate Working With iTunes, After All.

michael-jacksonCorrection: A Michael Jackson rep says that contrary to the report below, Jackson’s new album will be available on iTunes Oct. 27, though the “rest of the details are still be sorted.” My apologies for the error.

EARLIER: After Michael Jackson died, fans flooded iTunes to snap up his music. But when “This Is It,” the singer’s final work, comes out this month, they’ll have to look somewhere else: Apple’s digital store won’t be selling the album.

So says Digital Music News, citing “confidential information.” The problem, supposedly, is that Sony (SNE) and Jackson’s estate want to sell the entire double album as a set, while Apple insists that all of the music it sells needs to be available as singles.

I’m checking with Sony and Apple to confirm, but the story is a familiar one, because it’s a longstanding dispute between Apple (AAPL) and the music business. The industry, for both financial and artistic reasons, has tried to keep music bundled together, while Apple insists on selling it a la carte.

Apple usually wins these disputes: Even the stubborn iconoclasts in Radiohead eventually bowed to Steve Jobs’s will and turned their precious albums into individual songs.

If there is a clamor for the new Jackson music online, it will reportedly benefit Amazon (AMZN), whose MP3 store does offer album-only releases.

But I’m not sure how loud the clamor will be: As best I can tell, the “new” release contains only a smattering of Michael Jackson you haven’t heard before: Two versions of the title song, plus “a recently discovered spoken word poem.”

The rest? Greatest hits you can already buy, song-by-song, on iTunes.

Twitter Tackles Spam, and Sets Its Sights On Bigger Challenges (Take a Guess)

Now that Twitter doesn’t have to worry about raising money ever again (right?), it can spend time tackling all sorts of projects big and small. Here’s one of the latter: The company has created a better way for users to flag spam accounts.

I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say that Twitter has replaced a cumbersome and completely non-intuitive process with one that makes more sense. That’s good, right?

The flip side is that spam really isn’t one of Twitter’s most pressing problems.

In fact, Twitter’s anti-spam qualities were one of its best features from the very start: “Spam” on Twitter isn’t like other services’ spam, since no one can actually send you spam and clog up your inbox. You only see it if you’re gazing at messages that include your name. So it’s aesthetically offensive, but not the kind of thing that actually makes Twitter less useful.

In the more proactive category: Twitter’s “lists” feature, which curate interesting groups of Twitter users to follow, should debut next week, I’m told. This one does tackle a more significant problem for Twitter: New users come to the site and have no idea what to do or who to pay attention to. (Twitter’s quasi-controversial “Suggested Users List” doesn’t really cut it, though it does drive Robert Scoble nuts, which is amusing.)

And in the time-to-get-serious category: Actual revenue generation. Twitter’s giant cash pile means the company doesn’t have to start making money anytime soon. But it’s going to start trying, I’m told, with a series of… well, I heard them described, by someone familiar with the company’s plans, as “experiments”. Alternate name for them: “Don’t freak out if this stuff doesn’t work”.

We already know what one of them are: A plan to sell both Google (GOOG) and Microsoft (MSFT) access to Twitter’s data stream. But I’m told we should see other kinda-sorta-trials in coming months. we should see some of them in the coming months, I’m told.