Most aspiring singer/songwriters would tell the world when they signed a major record label deal. But Marié Digby didn’t tell a soul.
She didn’t tell anyone that Hollywood Records, owned by Disney and home to stars Hilary Duff and Raven Simone, bought her computer and production equipment so she could post simple videos to YouTube.
She kept quiet that Disney paid for polished studio recordings, featured on her MySpace page. On that page, under “Record label,” she specified “none.”
When she appeared on radio stations in Los Angeles and on NBC’s “Last Call with Carson Daly,” she played the naïf. “I just did this YouTube video two months ago and never, ever imagined that it actually get me on TV or radio or anything like that,” she said. “I just did it in my living room…” These appearances were actually booked through Hollywood Records. The hosts played along with the myth of discovering her online. Daly actually said, “I don’t think we need a television show to find talent in America. We have the Internet.”
Digby’s campaign was outed in a page-one Wall St. Journal article, which noted that she’s been under contract with Hollywood Records since 2005, 18 months before appearing on YouTube. Her videos there have been viewed more than 2.3 million times.
She says she sees nothing wrong with this chain of events. Her label says it’s just “laying the groundwork” for the eventual release of a CD.
While there’s nothing wrong with being ambitious, it is wrong to be a liar.
It’s also unethical public relations practice, according to the Public Relations Society of America. The core principle is that “open communication fosters informed decision making in a democratic society.” Ethical public relations practitioners avoid deceptive practices, identify who they’re working for and work to build trust as they advance their causes.
In the trade, Digby’s campaign is called “Astroturf” because, while it looks like a genuine grassroots campaign, it’s as fake as the turf in a domed stadium.
A record label’s deceptive public relations campaign may not be important in your world. But change “recording artists” into “candidates for political office,” and you’ve got something to think about.
In 1644, John Milton asked this question: “Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”
Our challenge today, with so much information raining down upon us, is to preserve the “free and open encounter.” Will we get it from the bloggers, MySpace or YouTube?
Think about that when you hear Marié Digby’s new single come on the radio.