It seems a week doesn’t pass when another instance of PR or media deception doesn’t surface to once again destroy consumer confidence.
Armstrong Williams and Ketchum have been the poster children for the past few months, but new targets are appearing to take their place.
The latest, James Oppenheim, is a particularly nasty departure.
Appearing on a local TV show in Austin Texas to review toys for kids, Oppenheim promoted a number of different products including a personalized photo album from Eastman Kodak.
The only problem was that Mr. Oppenheim was paid by Kodak.
On a subsequent appearance on NBC’s Today show, he once again promoted Kodak’s product – though Kodak says it didn’t pay for that particular mention. That was obviously Oppenheim’s favor to Kodak. And they weren’t alone. Of the fifteen products he plugged on NBC, nine were former clients and eight had paid for plugs on local television.
The Oppoenheim episode has opened up a big can of worms. It appears that there’s a booming industry for TV talking heads promoting products for cash with no disclosure before, during or after their segment.
The Wall Street Journal names a few more:
- Corey Greenberg – Today show’s Tech “Editor”. He charges $15,000 for mentions on local TV. Past clients include Apple, Sony, Hewlett Packard, Seiko Epson, Creative Technology and Energizer.
- Katlean De Monchy – Occasional fashion contributor on Good Morning America. Paid for mentions by Sam’s Club, DSW and Faviana.
Rachel Branch, a Sony public-relations official, says one of the things Sony likes about Mr. Greenberg is his credibility. “Viewers like him because he’s able to communicate about a product without showing bias,” she says. Mr. Greenberg also comes cheaper than some of his competitors, Ms. Branch adds, without elaborating.
Mr. Greenberg defends his local paid work, saying he’s providing valuable news to consumers. He says he wouldn’t do paid work for a product he didn’t believe in. Mr. Greenberg says his business resembles a magazine that collects money from advertisers and then reviews products marketed by the same companies. He says he can maintain a wall between his business and editorial practices. “I am a one-man magazine,” he says.
Mr. Greenberg says he labors to keep his “Today” appearances distinct from the paid work. He says on “Today” he is giving specific recommendations; on satellite tours, Mr. Greenberg says, he talks generally about gadget-related issues, such as battery life. As a general rule, he says he won’t mention a product on “Today” until six months after a paid mention. He says he’s rebuffed “high five-figure” offers “to place a product on “Today.”
As long as someone is willing to pay, there will always be someone willing to take cash. These “editors” are misleading the public, providing, in effect, advertising services for companies without any disclosure.
It’s completely unethical and unless the TV networks get hold of this practice they will be endangering any credibility they have left.
There’s no doubt that large manufacturers are shelling out cash to these schisters because it’s a cheap way to get products into mainstream TV programming – with strong endorsements to boot.
These people have to be stopped, discloure should be mandatory. It’s another example of the shady intersection of the media and commerce.