James brought my attention to an interesting ethical debate that affects our business model, and I’m curious as to what you guys think on it. Let me go through it, explain our thinking, and then ask (for those that feel comfortable commenting on such matters) what you guys think. So first, the issue at hand:
Is restricting press coverage – whether that’s quotes for press releases or the ability to give our name to the press as someone knowledgeable about a launch or some such – only to our paying clients, ethical? If we say that for you to ask us for a supporting quote for the release, or the ability to give our name to the press as you go to market, you need to be a client – is that right or wrong?
David Rossiter and ARmadgeddon are fairly unambiguous in their belief that it’s the latter. Here’s David:
You see, I think that it’s completely inappropriate for an analyst firm to ask for payment to provide a quote. I also think it’s out of order for analyst companies to only provide quotes to their clients.
Either way, the analyst firm is at risk of being seen as endorsing a company in return for money. They’re potentially allowing vendors to believe they can buy influence.
And here’s ARmadgeddon:
Quotes for hire, interesting concept…
We obviously agree with David that this would be utterly un-ethical
That, in a nutshell, is the essence of the debate. I won’t comment on the quotes above directly – my opinion on the matter would be pretty much worthless – but I’d be very interested in your thoughts. Instead of countering their position, let me explain our policy and let you judge for yourselves.
Put simply, our policy is this: as a rule, we only supply quotes for releases or allow our name to be given to the press as references for existing, paying clients. That’s pretty much it – it’s not terribly complicated. We’ll comment on anyone if they arrive at us independently (ask any reporter you know), we do not give our clients preferential treatment in the positive vs negative sense (just look at some of my public commentary about the ODF, for example), and we have never and will never sign our name to a quote supplied to us by a vendor. I should also be clear that we do not sell quotes on a one off basis, in a drive by “we need something positive” fashion. We provide them only to paying customers that have engaged with us on a subscription (i.e. retainer) basis.
But forget all that, what I think David and ARmadgeddon’s real concern is is that you’re intrinsically and unavoidably biased towards a customer when you provide commentary. Who knows – maybe they’re right. What I can tell you, however, is that our paying customers have regularly been surprised – and quite unhappy – when quotes that we’ve supplied as references on their behalf have been used against them. Maybe that confirms the suspicions of folks like David and ARmadgeddon, but that’s just how we work. Being a press reference, does not in any way guarantee that we’ll be a positive press reference. As James says, You Can Buy Our Thinking But You Can’t Buy Our Opinion.
About two years ago, I spoke with a reporter from the Wall St Journal about a RedMonk customer’s upcoming product launch. This particular vendor was competing with Microsoft, and in outlining the customers strategy over perhaps 15 or 20 minutes on the phone, I made no effort to conceal the fact that Microsoft was absolutely the incumbent in the space and would be difficult to dislodge. Out of all of the material I provided on the product in question, the quote chosen for the piece was that discussing Microsoft’s position. Needless to say the customer was unhappy – and probably not enthused about providing my name as a reference – but as Johnny Cash says, I guess things happen that way.
There’s an economic component to this – as James discusses, fielding press calls for some of our larger vendor clients takes a lot more time than you’d expect – but I really have no problem acknowledging this practice.
But as I said, I’m very curious as to what you guys think? Does the practice bias or compromise our coverage in some way?