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Full Disclosure: Chris Brogan and Kmart

While I’m on the disclosure topic, here’s Chris Brogan on advertising, trust and a recent sponsored post he did for Kmart. I’ve been a critic of Izea / Pay Per Post in the past, because early deployments of the concept didn’t always require that paid participants disclose the deal. You can’t say that Brogan, though, wasn’t transparent from the get-go:

“I have to admit that I haven’t stepped foot in a Kmart for a while, like probably since before they merged up with Sears. But this assignment was totally worth it. Basically, the plan was this: take a $500 gift card and figure out what was cool to buy at Kmart.”

And, regardless of my take on Izea, his response to criticism over the above offers sound advice to all online publishers.

“Businesses are trying to do exactly what we asked them to do. They’re trying to master our languages. They’re trying to talk to us where we are. They’re looking for new ways to talk and to advertise.”

Is that such a bad thing?! Perhaps a better question, though: Why does ad-supported media feel so shockingly new to some people?

“Those models all work on advertising-to-pay-for-editorial and editorial-to-keep-eyeballs-to-support-advertising. In fact, all previous media works that way. TV, radio, etc. Lost isn’t on TV because it’s cool. It’s because people can advertise against it….”

“In larger operations, there’s a bag man to take the advertising money and leave the journalists pure. I’ll get back to that point, because there is a line still, and that line must be respected. That hasn’t changed, and won’t change. But because there are many of us who are the publisher, the writer, the researcher, the customer service department, and the public relations staff, you’re going to have to seek a slightly different way to manifest that distinction.”

The solution to that problem? Transparency, disclosure and some more transparency:

“If there’s one thing that I feel is the hinge of all this, it’s disclosure. Have you read my About page? I’m going to bet that I disclose more of my relationships with companies than most people receiving similar opportunities, and the reason I do this is to be clear when something has the potential to be a skewed opinion, and/or when I stand to make some money from your taking my advice.

“The sponsored post about Kmart had the words ‘sponsored post’ in the title, in the first line, and in the last line of the post, with links to the company that sponsored me (Izea). The first paragraph explained the campaign and what I was doing for the project. It was very clearly a sponsored post. Do you disagree?

“To me, this can’t be much more clear.”

Yup. But disclosure alone isn’t the only rule to keep publishers out of trouble. Every publication that has an audience does so because that audience gets something unique from that publication. Stated or not, there’s a contract between the authors of that publication and its readers. In some cases, journalistic impartiality will prevent a publication from inviting a marketer into the editorial conversation, disclosed or otherwise. Each publication needs to understand that contract, and find sponsorship models that don’t put it in breach with its readers.