WOMMA To Marketers: Question Agency Practices

As the Edelman and Wal-Mart flogging controversy continues to simmer in the blogging community, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association yesterday released the WOMMA Ethics Assessment Tool, in hopes of clarifying what's acceptable and what's not, online and off.

"We need a tool that will allow even the most junior staffer to know whether or not what they are doing is ethical or unethical," says Andy Sernovitz, the association's CEO. "This will protect brands, clients and agencies."

The guidelines propose 20 questions covering six categories: honesty of relationship, honesty of opinion, honesty of identity, taking responsibility, respecting the rules, and hiring an agency. Questions include: "Would I be uncomfortable if my family or friends were involved in this campaign?" and "Is there anything about this campaign that we would be embarrassed to discuss publicly?"

Sernovitz says the timing of the tool's release was not related to the recent Edelman flogging fiasco, when the public relations firm and self-proclaimed corporate blogging leader was revealed as the exclusive contributor to a trio of Wal-Mart-friendly blogs that were ostensibly written by independent writers.

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Edelman's activities have led to a grassroots call from critics for WOMMA to toss out the agency--which helped write the association's ethical guidelines not long before it broke most of them--but Sernovitz said that wasn't going to happen.

"You don't expel a kid when he screws up, you send him to the guidance counselor," Sernovitz says. "Associations don't have many options for punishment."

Likewise, the new document is well-meaning, but potentially toothless. An FAQ portion of the document pertaining to enforcement reads: "WOMMA recommends using market pressure to drive business away from stealth marketing firms and toward honest companies."

WOMMA is calling for public comment from marketers and consumers through Nov. 9, in order to maximize the new tool's effectiveness.

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