Down To Business: Independent Analysis? Well, Yes, Quite Frankly
There's nothing quite like a bare-knuckled imbroglio to get the adrenaline of a new editor flowing. InformationWeek evidently picked such a fight when we took on the IT research community in a recent cover story ("Credibility Of Analysts," Feb. 6, p. 32). Judging from the range of responses we received, we're either bullies ("No one, including you, can truly be free of suspicion!"), sissies ("You were too soft!"), or rational thought leaders ("Your coverage was fair"). For a smattering of those responses, see our expanded Community Feedback section.
Several readers whipped out the old glass-house accusation: How can a publication that accepts advertising money from companies it covers raise questions about IT research firms that essentially do the same thing? To be clear, our raising questions about research industry practices is by no means an indictment of every analyst or firm. But it's worth noting that there's a big difference between how IT analyst firms and IT publications (at least ours) are structured and do business.
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Most IT analysts with vendor clients are involved in the sales process at some level. In the recruitment portion of its Web site, the Yankee Group states that analysts will "participate in sales calls" and "interact with numerous departments, including sales." Gartner CEO Gene Hall, while insisting that his firm's analysts are evaluated only on the quality of their research, says it's not uncommon for an analyst, "as part of convincing a prospect we have content," to participate on a phone call with a potential client. Whether such participation represents a conflict of interest that finds its way into the analyst's research depends on the analyst and the firm. But it's a red flag worth raising.
Journalists are by no means superior animals. We're susceptible to persuasion just like anyone else. But many organizational checks and balances ensure that our publication's business interests don't seep into our editorial coverage.
For one thing, our journalists aren't part of the advertising sales process. Most InformationWeek editors, especially those on the front lines who assign, write, and craft stories for our magazine and Web site, couldn't even tell you which companies advertise with the publication. It just isn't part of the editorial DNA or company structure, at least at CMP Media. Internally, a separate sales organization initiates and maintains the advertiser relationship. Should an ad salesperson or publisher step over that line, he or she is smacked back quickly.
As for the analyst firms, they'll ultimately have to answer to their customers, not to us. Many of the customers we talked with, especially startup vendors that feel pressured to "pay to play," are less than comfortable with the quality and integrity of analyst research and advisory services. They don't just suspect conflicts of interest; they have firsthand experiences with them, but they're afraid to talk publicly.
Research industry critics have suggested a legal or regulatory remedy: Go after analyst firms, Spitzer-style, and bully them into separating their content and sales organizations, just as financial companies must now separate their investment banking and research practices. Another approach is to create a watchdog group to keep an eye on analyst firm practices. Don't bother with either. Instead of wrapping up yet another industry in reams of red tape, let customers vote with their feet. You don't like the way an analyst firm operates? Find your information elsewhere. Meantime, if you're a small vendor that thinks it's being treated unfairly, air the stink in public forums.
Just a quick P.S. to say I'm thrilled to rejoin InformationWeek, where I served in several editorial roles in the '90s before moving over to sister publications InternetWeek and, most recently, Network Computing. Like my esteemed predecessor in this space, Bob Evans, I welcome your ideas and feedback. Drop me a line at the address below.
VP/Editor In Chief
To find out more about Rob Preston, please visit his page.