Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan reported that a company named 43a solicited him to put advertising links in his story in exchange for money. According to Nolan’s e-mails with 43a’s Bryan Clark, the company claims to have “big clients like Dell, T-Mobile, Sanford Brown, Motorola, etc” who pay for advertising links to be inserted “naturally” in news articles by outlets including the Huffington Post, Business Insider and Technorati.
According to Clark’s e-mails as republished by Nolan, 43a was willing to pay him $130 and then $175 per link inserted in stories for Gawker. Clark suggested that Nolan — and other writers paid by 43a — sneak the links in without editorial approval.
“What we suggest (as long as you think it won’t get you into any trouble — we don’t want anything that isn’t beneficial for both parties) is trying to drop a link in the article, and seeing if the editor mentions it. If he does, remove the link, and we’ll go our separate ways. If he doesn’t, we’ll pay you handsomely, and we can continue if you want to. We don’t do this for every article, and there is a certain ‘under the radar’ element to it, so you don’t want to over do it.”
43a’s website says that the company is a California-based “leading internet marketing agency that seeks to leverage our relationships with publishers to gain publicity and notoriety for our writers and clients.” According to the website, it “has a staff of full time writers focused on producing quality content for our clients.”
According to Gawker’s Nolan, who wrote that he declined 43a’s offer, Business Insider’s CEO Henry Blodget and the Huffington Post’s Mario Ruiz denied knowing of any such arrangement or of 43a. Both indicated that they would not permit such an arrangement. Further, Technorati’s publisher Jill Asher denied having any business arrangement with 43a or Clark as did Motorola’s Jennifer Weyrauch-Erickson and Dell’s Adam Brown.
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The Financial Times noted that while companies are denying any business relationship with 43a:
“One possibility not addressed in the original post is that some of these big companies hired a publicity firm, which in turn hired 43a. This kind of sub-contracting is common in the industry and makes it easy for an advertiser to keep its hands clean. But it’s still the responsibility of the client to make it clear they don’t want firms working on their behalf to employ such dirty tricks.”
Forbes‘ Jeff Bercovici commented that Gawker’s revelation could lead to legal troubles for 43a and the news outlets because the Federal Trade Commission’s rules for “product placements and endorsements on blogs and websites that involve payment of any kind” call for disclosure. Further, Bercovici noted that Google doesn’t permit “the buying and selling of links” if it impacts search rankings.
iMediaEthics has written to 43a with questions and will update with any response.