Does accepting a sponsor’s money mean you condone or support them?

I’ll admit I was pretty bemused that the BC Liberal Party was a sponsor of WordCamp Whistler last weekend. I’m not big supporter of the BC Liberals. They tend to be a wee to far to the right for my tastes, however while I was surprised they were a sponsor, I wasn’t upset about it.

At the moment there is a bit of controversy over the organizers of NorthernVoice accepting a sponsorship money from the BC Liberals to subsidize the pre-conference dinner Thursday night. Derek makes some good arguments for why he and Airdrie won’t be at the dinner, while Duane makes the point that raising any money for a conference is hard in today’s economy and that the BC Liberals didn’t having anything other than their logo there (I don’t know if anyone from the BC Liberals was even there).

Both posts bring up the important question: Does money from a group mean that you as conference organizers support what that group stands for?

It’s funny, if you’re taking money from a company, I don’t think so. Maybe with the exception of very large companies. Political parties, yeah that’s a tough one. The Government or a Government Ministry, that would be “our tax dollars at work”, but are the BC Liberals trying to curry favour with the social media crowd (who are ironically traditionally left-leaning)? Or do they just think that this is something worth investing in (BC businesses and entrepreneurs)?

Realistically I think it’s a mix of all of that, but I don’t think that whatever the BC Liberal’s rationale is, taking their money means that the organizers are supporters of the BC Liberals. I think the organizers looked at the bottom line and saw that if they wanted to have a nice party the night before, they needed a sponsor. I doubt that they sought out the BC Liberals, I’m betting the BC Liberals came to them.

Yes, I’m splitting some rather grey hairs at this point.

And I support my friends who choose not to go because of where the money is coming from. Personally, I think we have an opportunity to engage with people close to government to maybe have a more transparent, dare I say, social media savvy election this spring.

I think the next question is are the other two major parties in the Province going to step up to the social media table?

Even if they don’t open their wallets to us.

Comments

  1. says

    To the organizers, it may not seem like an endorsement, and that's fine. But the perception to others is probably a mild endorsement, and that's the perception that matters. I find it hard to believe they wouldn't have been able to find another sponsor and they could have avoided the whole debate!

    • says

      And I think that is a hugely valid point. It is the perception that matters here. But would they have been able to find a sponsor(s) with the cash right now? Maybe if things were scaled back for the dinner.

      I do think that there are two sets of rules here. Accepting money from companies is different than from political organizations.

  2. says

    To the organizers, it may not seem like an endorsement, and that's fine. But the perception to others is probably a mild endorsement, and that's the perception that matters. I find it hard to believe they wouldn't have been able to find another sponsor and they could have avoided the whole debate!

    • says

      And I think that is a hugely valid point. It is the perception that matters here. But would they have been able to find a sponsor(s) with the cash right now? Maybe if things were scaled back for the dinner.

      I do think that there are two sets of rules here. Accepting money from companies is different than from political organizations.

  3. says

    Hmmmm… I can understand both view points. It would be like getting sponsorship for a nutrition program from McDonalds. It is a decision that the organizers might want to think as having the logo of the sponsor on materials may deter others from joining. Not just from within the organization but other potential sponsors.

    At the same time, there is the whole Belle Wattling theory. I think back to Miss Melanie from Gone with the Wind who accepted monies earned via prostitution from Belle Wattling to support a "cause" dear to her heart.

    • says

      I think at this point the perception might win out. I don't think the BC Liberals are very popular in this social circle. So while accepting the money might not mean condoning them, it does for some taint the event (just that evening).

  4. says

    Hmmmm… I can understand both view points. It would be like getting sponsorship for a nutrition program from McDonalds. It is a decision that the organizers might want to think as having the logo of the sponsor on materials may deter others from joining. Not just from within the organization but other potential sponsors.

    At the same time, there is the whole Belle Wattling theory. I think back to Miss Melanie from Gone with the Wind who accepted monies earned via prostitution from Belle Wattling to support a "cause" dear to her heart.

    • says

      I think at this point the perception might win out. I don't think the BC Liberals are very popular in this social circle. So while accepting the money might not mean condoning them, it does for some taint the event (just that evening).

  5. says

    I wouldn't call it an endorsement, but it IS an indication that you find them acceptable to do business with. And look at it from a social media perspective: do you look at someone's Facebook friends and LinkedIn associates and judge them on that? Of course you do.

    • says

      I don't really think it's an indication you want to do business with them. I can see how some people might want to think of it as a mild endorsement, and that's fine. Basically having their logo on the page is a way of recognizing the financial support towards a conference or event. And Tris — the BC Liberals did not send a representative. They had the opportunity, but they were happy to give the support with no strings attached.

      • says

        I understand that Duane but people who see the logo may not. I think it is great that there is support for the event. Sponsorship is difficult and it is exciting to have companies and politcal parties support what one does.

      • says

        I'd definitely say that a sponsorship deal with a conference is "doing business." Money changes hands in exchange for something, which in this case was indeed a very hands-off branding exercise.

        The Liberal support was so unobtrusive as to be nearly invisible; I'm not sure they got their money's worth, if they wanted to raise awareness among attendees, but it will look good to the general public when they send out press releases about their activities. As I've said elsewhere, it's a strategy similiar to the UK Tories, and it's done very well for them among the public, although the tech community still squints and goes "oh, them!"

  6. says

    I wouldn't call it an endorsement, but it IS an indication that you find them acceptable to do business with. And look at it from a social media perspective: do you look at someone's Facebook friends and LinkedIn associates and judge them on that? Of course you do.

    • says

      I don't really think it's an indication you want to do business with them. I can see how some people might want to think of it as a mild endorsement, and that's fine. Basically having their logo on the page is a way of recognizing the financial support towards a conference or event. And Tris — the BC Liberals did not send a representative. They had the opportunity, but they were happy to give the support with no strings attached.

      • says

        I understand that Duane but people who see the logo may not. I think it is great that there is support for the event. Sponsorship is difficult and it is exciting to have companies and politcal parties support what one does.

      • says

        I'd definitely say that a sponsorship deal with a conference is "doing business." Money changes hands in exchange for something, which in this case was indeed a very hands-off branding exercise.

        The Liberal support was so unobtrusive as to be nearly invisible; I'm not sure they got their money's worth, if they wanted to raise awareness among attendees, but it will look good to the general public when they send out press releases about their activities. As I've said elsewhere, it's a strategy similiar to the UK Tories, and it's done very well for them among the public, although the tech community still squints and goes "oh, them!"

  7. says

    I think as soon as money changes hands you are sitting in the same camp, whether it's your money you're spending or money you're accepting. If I buy from a company that supports pro-life then I am supporting that political agenda too whether I consciously choose to or not. If you accept money from a company OR a political party, you are affiliated with them, at least in other people's eyes, whether you think so or not. If I see a blog with sponsor logos I always associate the blogger with those organizations. And anytime a blogger posts positively about a product or business I always wonder if they are somehow paid to do so (products, services, or money) – and frankly, if I wanted to read/look at advertising, I'd do it somewhere else instead of a blog. I think people need to look more critically at the information they are exposed to all the time. Who wants dinner paid for by the Liberals? I'd rather they deal with some bigger issues we have (say, like homelessness or the environment).

    • says

      Thank you Lola. I agree with your point about political parties, and to some extent companies (I don't order Dominoes Pizza for that reason).

      I'm going to the dinner because I feel it will be fun, and maybe I can influence public policy in some way.

  8. says

    I think as soon as money changes hands you are sitting in the same camp, whether it's your money you're spending or money you're accepting. If I buy from a company that supports pro-life then I am supporting that political agenda too whether I consciously choose to or not. If you accept money from a company OR a political party, you are affiliated with them, at least in other people's eyes, whether you think so or not. If I see a blog with sponsor logos I always associate the blogger with those organizations. And anytime a blogger posts positively about a product or business I always wonder if they are somehow paid to do so (products, services, or money) – and frankly, if I wanted to read/look at advertising, I'd do it somewhere else instead of a blog. I think people need to look more critically at the information they are exposed to all the time. Who wants dinner paid for by the Liberals? I'd rather they deal with some bigger issues we have (say, like homelessness or the environment).

    • says

      Thank you Lola. I agree with your point about political parties, and to some extent companies (I don't order Dominoes Pizza for that reason).

      I'm going to the dinner because I feel it will be fun, and maybe I can influence public policy in some way.

  9. Derek K Miller says

    As I posted on Duane's blog, even without influence on the content of the event, there is an influence on its reputation and credibility. If not, then conferences could accept sponsorship from anyone at all — white supremacists, the government of Sudan, organized crime — and say, “There’s no influence! What’s the problem?” No one would say that a legit political party is anything like those organizations, so the reputational influence isn't as obvious, but it's still there.

  10. Derek K Miller says

    As I posted on Duane's blog, even without influence on the content of the event, there is an influence on its reputation and credibility. If not, then conferences could accept sponsorship from anyone at all — white supremacists, the government of Sudan, organized crime — and say, “There’s no influence! What’s the problem?” No one would say that a legit political party is anything like those organizations, so the reputational influence isn't as obvious, but it's still there.

  11. says

    Derek, Of course you're going to the extreme, but yes it is a point well taken. And I think given how tight things are, the temptation to take money where you can get it will be strong. It's good that we're hashing this all out. Excellent discussion and lots of valid points from all.

  12. says

    Derek, Of course you're going to the extreme, but yes it is a point well taken. And I think given how tight things are, the temptation to take money where you can get it will be strong. It's good that we're hashing this all out. Excellent discussion and lots of valid points from all.

    • says

      Travis, when are the comments on the Northern Voice blog going to be approved? None of the comments I've ever left on that blog have shown up, including the one I left asking how to purchase tickets for the party. THAT is a negative factor for sure!

      • says

        There was a missed setting in the permissions for comments. I've set it so that all legitimate comments should go through now.

        (I help administer the site on behalf of NV.)

    • says

      Travis, when are the comments on the Northern Voice blog going to be approved? None of the comments I've ever left on that blog have shown up, including the one I left asking how to purchase tickets for the party. THAT is a negative factor for sure!

      • says

        There was a missed setting in the permissions for comments. I've set it so that all legitimate comments should go through now.

        (I help administer the site on behalf of NV.)

  13. says

    And, yes, suddenly there are everyone's comments, posted. But it shouldn't have taken a thunderstorm and the better part of a week to get this done, should it?

    I also see the link to the Eventbrite listing to purchase tickets for the party right in the post; that is something I looked for, and did not find, earlier. Now that it appears to be sold out, there's hardly any point, is there? The link to purchase tickets was sent out on Twitter, I understand, several days ago and not posted in the blog announcement for several days, thus filtering who would get the information in time to act on it and who would not.

    These are social media choices that may perhaps be more telling than the committee would like. While a lot of people are on Twitter, not everyone is, and it's specifically a blogging conference, not a social media one. Perhaps the priorities in this case were backwards.

    And, as I said on the NV site, perhaps the solution to this issue is to avoid having parties so extravagant they cannot be staged without the financial support of controversial organizations. They've managed it every year up till now, and last year even managed to host a party big enough for everyone instead of one with the capacity of less than half of attendees.

  14. says

    And, yes, suddenly there are everyone's comments, posted. But it shouldn't have taken a thunderstorm and the better part of a week to get this done, should it?

    I also see the link to the Eventbrite listing to purchase tickets for the party right in the post; that is something I looked for, and did not find, earlier. Now that it appears to be sold out, there's hardly any point, is there? The link to purchase tickets was sent out on Twitter, I understand, several days ago and not posted in the blog announcement for several days, thus filtering who would get the information in time to act on it and who would not.

    These are social media choices that may perhaps be more telling than the committee would like. While a lot of people are on Twitter, not everyone is, and it's specifically a blogging conference, not a social media one. Perhaps the priorities in this case were backwards.

    And, as I said on the NV site, perhaps the solution to this issue is to avoid having parties so extravagant they cannot be staged without the financial support of controversial organizations. They've managed it every year up till now, and last year even managed to host a party big enough for everyone instead of one with the capacity of less than half of attendees.

  15. Jon Husband says

    What Mack D. Male and Derek Miller said re: reputational influence .. the word sponsorship carries the issue here. There is always some form of exchange with sponsorship, even it is not explicitly visible, that's why there are sponsorship committees, to decide what the best quid pro quo is and why. We live in such an advertising-and-branding saturated word that we have become benumbed or inattentive to the basic issues, and then of course relativism creeps on into the party. But hey, we are supposedly living in a pomo world, right ?

    Here's an interesting test .. would the organizing committee have accepted equal sponsorships from both the BC Liberals and the BC NDP, and if so, would each party respectively have been comfortable as co-sponsor ? It would be interesting to find out the answers to those two questions.

  16. Jon Husband says

    What Mack D. Male and Derek Miller said re: reputational influence .. the word sponsorship carries the issue here. There is always some form of exchange with sponsorship, even it is not explicitly visible, that's why there are sponsorship committees, to decide what the best quid pro quo is and why. We live in such an advertising-and-branding saturated word that we have become benumbed or inattentive to the basic issues, and then of course relativism creeps on into the party. But hey, we are supposedly living in a pomo world, right ?

    Here's an interesting test .. would the organizing committee have accepted equal sponsorships from both the BC Liberals and the BC NDP, and if so, would each party respectively have been comfortable as co-sponsor ? It would be interesting to find out the answers to those two questions.

  17. says

    In most cases, whether you're dealing with a political party or not, a sponsor would prefer (or demand) to be the sole sponsor of their type — which is why you don't see both Coke and Pepsi, or both McDonald's and Burger King, sponsoring the Olympics.

    Based on comments around the web on this issue, it seems that following the offer from the BC Liberals, the Northern Voice committee asked some of the other parties if they were interested too, and they were not. I'm not sure if that's the reason, but there you go.

  18. says

    In most cases, whether you're dealing with a political party or not, a sponsor would prefer (or demand) to be the sole sponsor of their type — which is why you don't see both Coke and Pepsi, or both McDonald's and Burger King, sponsoring the Olympics.

    Based on comments around the web on this issue, it seems that following the offer from the BC Liberals, the Northern Voice committee asked some of the other parties if they were interested too, and they were not. I'm not sure if that's the reason, but there you go.

  19. says

    I think it depends on the depth of the sponsorship. If it was just a banner or sign, raising awareness to the existence of a group is harmless, in my opinion. If the group (political or not), is hosting a main event at a conference, and I was against the cause, I probably wouldn't show up. I don't think I'd skip a show over a banner, though.

  20. says

    I think it depends on the depth of the sponsorship. If it was just a banner or sign, raising awareness to the existence of a group is harmless, in my opinion. If the group (political or not), is hosting a main event at a conference, and I was against the cause, I probably wouldn't show up. I don't think I'd skip a show over a banner, though.

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