Where sponsors should not go

We often say that you can sell a sponsorship to just about anything, from lanyards to seatbacks in the session rooms. But, when it comes to your event Web site, think carefully before wading into the muck that some magazines have been foundering in lately: Selling links within editorial content on a Web site. (For more reading on how this is playing out in the publication world, see these posts.) Here's what the hoo-ha is about, according to Folio magazine:

    [Journalism guru Paul] Conley’s wrath is directed at Ziff’s decision to use an advertising feature called IntelliTXT developed by Vibrant Media that hyperlinks keywords within an article to a pop-up text ad. When the cursor is moved over the hyperlinked word or phrase in an article, such as “software” or “server technology,” a pop-up text ad appears that links to a sponsor’s Web site. To Conley, and others, the practice skirts the issue of advertising transparency, even though the pop-up window is labeled as an advertisement and the hyperlinks are uniquely formatted, in this case, in green with a double underline. The service can also be used as pop-ups to alert readers to related articles.

(I take issue with the transparency of these links, which to me easily could be confused with editorial links, but I digress.) While your event Web site most likely doesn't operate under journalistic ethical guidelines, the whole concept is just wrong. Can you imagine if a potential attendee, clicking around your session descriptions, saw a link in the technology track that they think will provide more information about the topic, but instead links to a sponsor? That trust, which is so hard to build, shatters in an instant.

I've always maintained that our businesses—meetings and business-to-business media—are very similar. I'd just hate to see you make the mistake that some of my journalistic brethren are making in chasing the almighty dollar. Both meetings organizers and media publishers can use all the new sources of revenue they can find, but, in my opinion, this is one best left on the table.

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