Sunday, April 5, 2009

Expedia, Sefiani Commnications and Fairfax press combine to bring to an end the BOOT's reading of newspapers

I rarely read offline newspapers now. Simply don't have the time and like a good Interweb user I collect and read most of my news via by feedreader and twitter. I have also found that as newspapers have cut more and more staff they have descended into being too dependent on PR companies feeding them whole stories. With this in mind I was reading in Singapore Airport the weekend Life and Leisure supplement from the Australian Financial Review (owned by Fairfax Media). Up until yesterday I have enjoyed the "Traveller" section of that supplement which each week asks a road-warrior to answer a few question about their experiences as a business traveller. This week it was Robyn Sefiani of Sefiani Communications Group. There was one question and answer part of her profile that caught my eye and I thought I would share with you...
"Travel Tips

I do all of my travel bookings online through and The savings can be significant and the traveller reviews are a great guide to finding the best hotels."
This clearly reads like PR messaging regurgitation, not insight shared by one traveller to another. Intrigued I looked up Robyn Sefiani's company and found that she does a lot of work in communications and PR for consumer companies. In fact she lists as one of her client's
"The world’s largest online travel company" (and this news story confirms that she does PR for Expedia)
et tu Australian Financial Review? Have you run out of people to profile in the "Traveller" section - one of the last pieces of offline news media that I consume - and are now selling it off to the highest bidder? Best case view, the AFR did not realise that Sefiani was using the Traveller section to promote one her client Expedia without disclosing the link. In which case it is sloppy work by the AFR/Fairfax for not checking and unpleasant work by Sefiani for tricking the newspaper. Worst case view, the AFR is using this spot as another revenue generating part of the paper regardless of the impact on readers' trust.

I am all for creative PR. For finding ways to get your company's brand read by consumers in a fashion that exploits the consumer's desire for information and entertainment rather than through pure advertising. In a way where the consumer does not mind having the brand promoted. But having a paid representative simply recommend a brand name without disclosing that they are paid to do so is not creative PR - it is advertising deceitfully dressed up as information. This piece should have been labelled as an advertisement. Shame on you Fairfax for this lapse and shame on you Sefiani Communications and Expedia for not having more creative ways of getting your message out. That's it, no more newspaper reading for the BOOT (and we used to be such friends). Back to the Internet for me where you can trust everything your read as being independent and without spin...cough...hmm

Update - Robyn Sefiani has sent me an email on this. Here it is unedited

Dear Tim,

I see I feature on your blog today, following my recommendation of Expedia and Hotels. Com in the Australian Financial Review ‘Traveller’ column last week, which is a regular reader Q&A in the Life & Leisure section of the AFR.

The facts are these: I was an avid fan and regular user of Expedia two years before our firm was invited to pitch for Expedia’s PR account in Australia, and I continue to do most of my travel and accommodation bookings online through Expedia and

My favourite hotels mentioned in the ‘Traveller’ column, the W Court in New York and Le Agavi in Positano, were discovered on Expedia, well before Sefiani was appointed by Expedia Australia.

I do accept that public relations firms have a responsibility to declare commercial interests, but as my comments in ‘Traveller’ were my own personal views, I stand by them.

Best regards

Robyn Sefiani

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