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Ken Magill

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On the Obscene Business Alliance of Big Media and Big Data

9/23/14
 
By Ken Magill
 
I overheard a conversation sometime back in which an executive from a well-known data firm was recounting how a well-known media outlet was doing a privacy hack job on her company while at the same time the business side of the media outlet had approached her company to buy data.
 
“It’s one of the great ironies of consumer reporting. Isn’t it?” I interjected as I walked by.
 
I checked the story the executive was referencing, and sure as hangovers start my mornings, there was no disclosure that the very-large media outlet did any business with the data firm its editorial side was skewering.
 
As long-time readers are well aware, I have little to no respect for consumer reporters.
 
They are too often intellectually lazy and incapable of reporting facts that run counter to their preconceived narrative.
 
If consumer reporters who cover privacy had the slightest amount of intellectual curiosity and journalistic integrity, their reporting would naturally take them to their circulation departments to see how their companies use marketing data.
 
Instead, not once have I seen a negative story—are there positive ones?—on data-driven marketing in which the reporter turned her sights on her employer.
 
Okay, so maybe it’s unrealistic to ask a reporter to dig into her company’s data practices but is it too much to ask that the reporter at least disclose the fact that her organization does business with so-called data brokers?
 
Apparently it is.
 
It is also the height of irony when a consumer reporter files a piece quoting a politician or privacy zealot calling for transparency while failing to disclose their publisher’s involvement in the business.
 
The consumer press cannot be counted on to have a shred of integrity on issues related to data-driven marketing. 
 
It would be great if we could figure out a way to out them for the lazy, hypocritical jackwads they are.
 
Unfortunately, when data companies strike agreements with clients, the contracts generally stipulate they can’t disclose their clients’ names.
 
I say “unfortunately” because imagine how much fun it would be if next time Sen. Jay “I-can’t-prove-it’s-wrong-but-there’s-something-lethal-about-it” Rockefeller [D. WV] conducted a marketing witch hunt and demanded the names of Epsilon’s, Experian’s and Acxiom’s clients, they handed over a list of big-media brands along with a list of political candidates who use their services.
 
It would be even better if data sellers started choking off big media from data services so reporters would start feeling their outlets’ anti-marketing idiocy in their paychecks.
 
But even if data’s big players miraculously agreed to start choking off and/or outing big-media brands who disseminated anti-marketing hack jobs while using marketing data themselves, there would always be an opportunist to fill the void, take big media’s business and sign non-disclosure agreements.
 
So here we are: Data companies doing business with the enemy on the enemy’s terms, indirectly helping finance the weapons that inevitably turn on them and marketing in general.
 
Message to data-services companies: As long as you keep playing ball with big media, every editorial pitch will be zipping straight at your head. And the beanballs will be thrown by players you helped get paid.
 
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