I’ve been told to tweet this tomorrow: ‘Really excited to be heading down to @BRITAwards tonight with [sponsors names here]’. No, no, no.
— Tim Walker (@ThatTimWalker) February 18, 2014
Last week’s reports on a PR company’s demand to journalists that they post tweets in exchange for accreditation missed one important factor: the Advertising Standards Authority.
The arrangement – involving a PR agency handling Mastercard‘s sponsorship of the Brit Awards – was revealed when Telegraph reporter Tim Walker sent an email to Press Gazette. They reported:
“Before providing two journalists from the Telegraph with accreditation to attend the event House PR has asked them to agree to a number of requests about the coverage they will give it.
“They have even gone as far as to draft Twitter messages which they would like the journalists to send out – and asked that they include a mention of the marketing campaign #PricelessSurprises and @MasterCardUK.”
Do such messages fall foul of the ASA’s guidelines on “marketing communications” on Twitter?
The ASA’s press officer Matt Wilson said that they don’t have a precedent, but told me:
“If entry to the Brit awards was conditional on the journalist tweeting on behalf of Mastercard, we’d likely view that as a ‘reciprocal arrangement’ (i.e. the journalist receiving a benefit they wouldn’t have otherwise).
“If the tweets were pre-drafted and the advertiser had the right to approve them, this would constitute editorial control.
“Under the Advertising Code (payment and control tests), this would be classed as advertising and therefore it should be made clear (disclosed) that it is an ad. Without the reciprocal arrangement, however, this is unlikely to fall under our remit.”
The ASA isn’t the only agency who could get involved. 3 years ago I wrote about how the Office of Fair Trading had also started policing the area. The OFT had said:
“We expect online advertising and marketing campaigns to be transparent so consumers can clearly tell when blogs, posts and microblogs have been published in return for payment or payment in kind.”
What both organisations provide is a clear line for journalists to take when fielding such requests:
“We can’t. It’s against the rules of both the ASA and OFT. (Unless we put #sponsoredtweet on the end. Would you like to speak to our ad sales department..?)”