Oracle has (allegedly) invited 30 bloggers to its Oracle OpenWorld event. Yay - they get the value of independent analysis...or do they? Check Jake Kuramoto's blog on the topic:
Oracle has extended an invitation to leaders in the blogging community, who can come experience the pageantry of an entire city block covered by a huge tent (oh and the conference). Qualified bloggers can register for OpenWorld as “Press“. Your registration will go to a wonderfully helpful person in PR (who, along with Justin, has been instrumental in getting this done, but wishes to remain anonymous) who will check out your blog to make sure you’re legit and set you up with a pass.
I know that Oracle PR has sent invitations to a number of the Irregulars. I am among those invited. One would therefore assume 'we' are pre-qualified rather than having to jump through PR hoops. Apparently not. It gets worse.
We’re not picking up travel costs or expenses, sorry. This will keep you impartial. If you see me, I’ll give you a pat on the back, how’s that instead?
Am I supposed to be grateful? I'm offended. Like all other major vendors, it is a fact that Oracle picks up expenses for accredited press traveling from overseas - in my case Spain. Draw your own conclusions about Oracle's genuine willingness to engage with bloggers who are regarded as influencers at SAP, Sun, IBM, Adobe and Microsoft to name but a few.
You will get access to the entire week’s events
What about access to the execs? When SAP opened the blogger kimono in 2006, the Irregular bloggers were offered direct access to execs who today routinely engage, despite the fact many of us are critical of SAP across a broad range of issues. We regard it as an honor to be offered time with board members Henning Kagermann, Peter Zencke and Leo Apotheker. It doesn't get anyone a free or favorable pass from us. We have been told by Mike Prosceno, head of SAP blogger relations that SAP values our opinions, good and bad. That's both humbling and gratifying.
Today, SAP has direct conversations with bloggers who are interested in enterprise issues. Take for example this critique of SAP and LAUSD's failed payroll project, SAP's input and Mike Krigsman's acknowledgment of SAPs efforts to engage in the conversations that ensued. We also benefit from a deeper understanding of the company, its position in the market and its work with customers. In other words, everyone wins. Even if we don't always see eye to eye.
I raised this issue with my Irregular colleagues and Vinnie Mirchandani picked up the baton publicly on Jake's site. He rightly congratulated Jake and Justin for making representations on behalf of all bloggers. To contextualize, this was something I'd privately mooted with both Jake and Justin over the last weeks and I can applaud their efforts to get this program off the ground. Unfortunately, the conversation went downhill with Jake asserting that SAP buys our loyalty through TE reimbursement. Whether this was inbred Oracle suspicion or inexperience I cannot tell but such accusations have no merit. The entire conversation is worth the reading but eventually Jake went on to clarify:
SAP attempts to buy your loyalty. I got you, SAP and loyalty in the same sentence. You’re right, though, and the point is made, and just for clarification’s sake, I don’t think SAP is trying to buy loyalty with trips and expenses. However, it sets a precedent for that is uncomfortable.
Perhaps Jake and Justin's relationship with PR is not as wholesome as it could be. Perhaps they've been duped by a PR department that knows what happens elsewhere and is instead mollifying them. Regardless, a number of the Irregulars were affronted at the suggestion. Jeff Nolan, who initiated the SAP blogger program during his time at SAP had this to say in email to me, which he has given permission to reproduce:
This business about SAP buying loyalties is offensive to me. When I picked the original 15 bloggers for the SAPPHIRE program I picked people I knew to be sharp critics of SAP, like Vinnie Mirchandani, and keen analysts who could ask tough questions, like Jason Wood, and top notch technologists, like Niel Robertson. I wasn't attempting to buy anyone's loyalty, I just wanted to create an environment that would be infinitely more interesting than the typical press conference. Considering the personalities of the people in this group, I think it's safe to say that any hope we could buy anyone's loyalty would be an impossibly tall task.
As to the outcomes? Jeff continues:
We tried something new and it worked, and continues to work. If other companies want to follow SAP's lead, they will probably have similarly good results but I am sure that there are many ways to accomplish the overarching goals of having a richer conversation with the marketplace.
When a customer becomes a friend and a friend tells you that one of the reasons that being a customer is fun, at least in part, is because of you – WOW. How do you top that?
The back story is that Dan and Ed are geeks at Colgate-Palmolive. They came to SAPPHIRE Atlanta this year following representations by 'suits' among the Irregulars. Dan and Ed struck up relationships with Mike and other SAPpers. Mike's post is the outcome. This is the essence of what responsible if irreverent bloggers deliver through their influence and reputations. In this instance, they were the conduit through which good customer relationships are built. Perhaps Oracle isn't interested or maybe it lives in fear of having to defend its own spin? Or fear of having its anonymous supporters exposed?
There are always risks when inviting bloggers to corporate events. Especially those who know their stuff and don't do spin. We cannot be controlled but as SAP has found, that is all to the good, even if as Jeff once quipped: 'They carry nuclear briefcases.'
It is tragic that Jake and Justin's hard work should apparently be undermined by a PR organization that seems intent on painting a picture that puts Oracle in a good light yet at the same time exposes the double standards by which it operates. It is a double tragedy because those of us who have met Larry Ellison and Charles Phillips know that as leaders of a world class company, they provide excellent value.
I've said it before and it's worth repeating, When it comes to understanding the world of modern communications, Oracle is clueless.
I conclude with these thoughts: if you are a customer - can you trust a company that behaves this way? Despite the many fine people who work at Oracle, can you believe its corporate voice? I leave readers to draw their own conclusions.