I recently read a glowing review of a vendor’s boot camp. In some of the follow up postings it became clear that the reviewer had been given a free seat at the camp by the vendor. This was not mentioned anywhere in the review. While this may not have changed a single word of the review, it also did not allow readers to “adjust for possible bias.” Finding out afterwards that the reviewed (expensive) product was given to the reviewer free of charge by the vendor led me to discount most of the glowing review. I thought to myself, “He was paid off.” After thinking that I started thinking about talking black pots and motes and eyeballs. 🙂
Most of you have probably noticed the Internetwork Expert banner ad on my blog. You may also have noticed that I been using Internetwork Expert products exclusively (with the exception of some EIGRP labs from CCBootcamp) on my (way too long) quest for my digits. Perhaps this led you to believe that I am a shrill for Internetwork Expert. Well, you’re partially correct.
I am not a blogger for Internetwork Expert. I started my blog in April of 2007. I spent a lot of time researching vendors and – specifically – their workbooks. After logging many hours reading through various forums I decided to use Internetwork Expert’s workbooks. I started out by just purchasing the Volume I labs. After working my way through most of those labs, I got the good news that my employer would pay for the IE Advanced Technologies COD and Volume II workbook bundle.
Shortly after I placed that order I received an email from IE Marketing (they reverse-engineered my contact information from the order) asking me if I would put an IE banner ad on my blog in exchange for some training materials. I happily agreed to this with the caveat that that I would be free to comment about IE and its products – good or bad. That’s when I placed the banner ad on my site. My payoff? The IE ATC and Volume II Workbook – which I had just bought! 🙂 They also threw in the Volume III workbook ($249) as well as the COD of their 5-day boot camp ($995). Nice!
As my blog grew in popularity – and presumably clicks for Internetwork Expert – IE threw in the Volume II Lab Breakdowns (labs 2 – 7 – $354). Basically, they ended up giving me access to all of their Class-On-Demand products for Routing and Switching. I ended up with $1,600 worth of ‘freebies’ for hosting an ad for a company that I had already decided to do business with. A win-win situation, right? Well, for me and IE at least.
This is from my original reply to IE:
I would definitely welcome any sponsorship/advertising in return for access to training materials as long as I could inform readers of any free products I may receive from Internetwork Expert. I would also continue to freely express my opinions about Internetwork Expert and its products – good or bad. Basically, I would just like to disclose any “freebies” to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest while also being able to comment on Internetwork Expert and its products without a sense of obligation.
IE agreed to this:
First of all, thank you for positive consideration of Internetwork Expert offer. I greatly appreciate this. I think it is absolutely vital for you, your blog and your readers to post/have/read objective and “untainted” opinions . Also, please do not hesitate disclosing the “freebies” and freely, without any obligation comment on our products.
Unfortunately, I never did post about my relationship with IE…until today. I don’t think that I purposely ‘hid’ this from my readers, but I absolutely should have disclosed this from the beginning. I’ve been guilty of self-justification along the way, “All the bloggers do this”, “It’s not biasing my reviews”, “The readers see the ad and know the score”. So you see, it was the height of hypocrisy for me to be disgusted with the reviewer mentioned at the beginning of this post for not disclosing his relationship with the vendor whose product he was reviewing, while I was doing EXACTLY the same thing.
Just to clarify a bit: I made the decision to use IE products before – and – regardless of any advertising on my blog. I’ve spent over $5,000 of my own money on IE products (most of it reimbursed by my employer, but IE still gets the cash). I try very hard to be objective in my reviews. I am under no obligation to pimp out IE or their products. I try to post about CCIE products and promotions that excite me regardless of vendor. I am on all of the (major) vendors emailing lists. When I post about new products or promotions I am (self) selecting that information from the vendors mailings.
That said, I have failed my readers (I’m sure you’re used to this by now 🙂 ) by not disclosing my relationship with IE. Although I don’t believe that I would have typed a single different character, I did rob my readers of the ability to take into account that I may be biased based on my relationship with IE.
I apologize for not disclosing this earlier. I can assure you that I am not a corporate shrill, but that is your decision to make and that is the way it should be. I never should have obscurred (intentionaly or not) my relationship with any vendors whom I blog about.
DON’T assume that all bloggers with an IE (or other vendor) ad on their site are hosting the ad because a vendor is giving them free product.
My apologies to my corporate overlords IE if my disclosure of my freebies leads to other bloggers hitting you up for free product.