If you check out today’s MediaPost, you’ll find an article about the WOM industry and some perspective on the components that drive it. I wrote this article for several reasons, not the least of which was in reaction to some frank, and appreciated, input I received from Andy Sernovitz, the CEO of WOMMA.
The work that Andy has invested to help grow WOMMA from a fledgling idea cooked up by Pete Blackshaw, Jonathan Carson and myself a little over two years ago, to an industry shaping association with nearly 300 members has been nothing short of incredible. As a group, the four of us have enjoyed plenty of good times, overcome many challenges and worked hard to ensure the right message about honest WOM pervades the marketplace. I now sit on the WOMMA board, which is about to expand to 15 members, to help manage the broadening landscape.
But while the WOM industry has grown steadily, awareness of BzzAgent’s model seems to have outpaced many others. A huge percentage of articles about WOM include something about BzzAgent, and often some are about us entirely. But this exposure has been a double-edged sword: whenever a debate about WOM ethics emerges, BzzAgent’s name is placed front and center – despite our continued efforts to define and enforce disclosure practices.
Ironically, it wasn’t a negative story that sparked Andy’s tough feedback. It was an extremely positive feature in The Holmes Report (a PR industry trend update) that triggered the response. The article focused almost solely on BzzAgent, which according to Andy, has upset many PR practitioners in the WOM field who felt “left out” of a story published in one of their industry periodicals. Such disappointment is frustrating, particularly given that we hadn’t even been interviewed for the report, and weren’t even aware that it was coming out. Yes, a possible case of sour grapes, but BzzAgent has never intentionally marginalized other well-intentioned WOM practitioners, nor have we sought exposure at their expense.
The focus of BzzAgent for the Holmes Report seemed to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Andy gave us a call to let us know that he’s frustrated – as are many other WOMMA members and the industry as a whole. Andy doesn’t mince words [which is one thing we love about him], and he straight up let us know that our PR has minimized – invalidated, even – other healthy business models, such as viral marketing. And that my comments and focus on our model has “alienated other members” – so much so that we’re becoming a “pariah” of the industry. He mentioned that we’re “nasty” [and not in the Janet Jackson sorta way].
Tensions are clearly high. Andy subsequently told our PR guy on the down low -or maybe not – that my behavior and actions in the industry made me a “dick.”
According to the free dictionary, “dick” is defined as:
1. Chiefly British A fellow; a guy.
2. Vulgar A penis.
3. Vulgar A person, especially a man, regarded as mean or contemptible.
[I’m guessing he doesn’t mean to suggest that I’m British]. Maybe it was the heat of the moment, or perhaps he wanted to make his point unambiguous, but clearly this is an indication that emotions are high.
Like most people, I find negative feedback hard to swallow. But this one is especially tough, given that we’ve worked tirelessly to develop the most socially acceptable, ethical business model and I truly believe BzzAgent is at least partly responsible for helping major corporations create budgetary line items for WOM spends.
I’m tempted to defend myself by pointing out that the evolution of the BzzAgent media model actually embraces all of the other WOM practitioners by providing them a distribution channel for their WOM programs. But what I’m really wondering is whether Andy is onto something we may have missed.
Maybe I am a dick? Maybe the press is tired of what we do. Maybe the rest of the industry now hates us.
So, I wrote the MediaPost article in part to try to start setting our perspective straight. I don’t think BzzAgent is the universe of WOM. I don’t believe it’s the only model – not by a long shot – nor does any member of my team.
Either way, we’re eager to know if maybe – just maybe, Andy is right.ReTweet