Conflict-of-Interest Watch: A 'Subtle' Request
By Ken Magill
On March 29, I received an interesting unsolicited pitch from someone asking to write an article for The Magill Report. The pitch speaks for itself:
“I'd like to contribute an article to your site, magillreport.com - I can pick a topic that goes with the theme of your content or I can write about something of your choosing. The article will be unique, interesting to read. In return, I ask that I be able to subtly include a link to trainhorns.net within the article.
“If you are able to put a permanent link to the article in a prominent place on your website, I may be able to make a one time Paypal donation as well.
“Please let me know your thoughts.
“Have a wonderful weekend!
The message came from firstname.lastname@example.org.
I wasn’t interested in having Fabian write for The Magill Report and “subtly include a link to trainhorns.net.” For one thing, I’ve already got two advertisers paying a monthly fee for prominent placement.
For another, a link to Trainhorns.net on a site dedicated to marketing issues would look out wildly out of place.
Oh, and there’s the ethics thing about taking money for self-promotional copy not labeled as paid no matter how subtle. Let’s not forget about that.
However, the pitch piqued my interest.
So I responded with the following:
“I'm not interested in your proposal per se, but I am interested in it as a marketing tactic. I may want to write about it.
“Would you be willing to explain it to me over the phone? I'm curious as to how it works and how effective it is.
I have yet to hear from Fabian. [Fabian, if you read this I’m still interested in an interview.]
TrainHorns.net sells ear-splitting air horns for cars and trucks. It is apparently operated by a firm called KASA Capital.
“Through various entities, KASA owns and operates a network of e-commerce sites specializing in focused market segments,” says copy on KASA’s site. “Currently, we own and operate over 30 sites that focus on specific niches.”
Curiously, it doesn’t name any of the sites.
Trainhorns home page identifies it as a Kasa store. It doesn’t seem to link to any other Kasa stores, however.
A check of the Better Business Bureau reveals KASA capital is not BBB accredited. But it is given an “A” rating.
What to make of a company that apparently runs a bunch of e-commerce sites but doesn’t name any of them on its website? Who knows?
But if an article appears on a site and “subtly” links to one of them, we can guess how it got there.