AuctionBytes has been covering the ecommerce industry - primarily eBay - for the past 10 years, and we've had the opportunity to work with many public relations persons from the company during that time. Two in particular - Kevin Pursglove and Hani Durzy - were both tough, knowledgeable gatekeepers for the company. Although they frequently took the brunt of community opinion - and sometimes from us - both continued to be professional and responsive to inquiries from AuctionBytes throughout their tenure with eBay.
There was a palpable shift when John Donahoe transitioned into the role of CEO and Jose Mallabo took over as Director of Corporate Communications early last year. In one of his first responses to an inquiry from Ina, Mallabo responded via email, "I will use this as an opportunity to set some expectations moving forward. While we appreciate that these glitches are of great importance to your readers - and we certainly appreciate you drawing our attention to them, we just can't guarantee you a response on absolutely everything. If they are of a size that impacts a critical mass of the community, then we'll put it on the systems board. If not, we will do our very best to track down the answers for you in a reasonable time frame but often times these glitches are so obscure and impossible to replicate that getting answers can take a considerable amount of our team's time."
It was an interesting response, to say the least, since our readers are a fair segment of the eBay selling community who pay for eBay's services, and are frequently the first to report major glitches, outages or security holes on the site. Anyone who has looked to the eBay Announcement boards as a source of timely information concerning these matters has likely been sorely disappointed. We thanked Mr. Mallabo for clarifying, and explained that in order to remain responsive to our readers, we would post the glitches directly to the AuctionBytes Blog, and that he should feel free to post any responses in our comments section.
Interestingly, Mallabo posted a comment from a non-eBay IP address in March of 2008. Shortly thereafter, another post appeared from the same DSL IP address as Mallabo's, but using the name John Rathert (the name of someone listed as a cofounder of his previous business), criticizing another commenter and stating, "You and David are about as big a joke as there is. Go write about the fuzz in your navels."
It seemed rather bizarre at the time, but we concluded that there was nothing particularly noteworthy to report about our navels, and continued to try to have a dialogue with eBay.
The dialogue since then has been decidedly one-sided. Over the course of the past year, Ina has been chided for the "tone" of her articles by members of the eBay PR team. In an incident at last year's eBay Live, Ina was pulled aside by Usher Lieberman, a member of eBay's PR team, and was told not to ask about specific user's issues or else she would no longer be granted access to eBay executives. Two months later, Lieberman offered for eBay to pay Ina's way to San Jose for a briefing on the August 2008 changes and meetings with top executives. When Ina declined this inappropriate offer in favor of phone interviews, the briefing was granted, but access to top executives was withdrawn.
After running an article about 3rd Party checkout last week, rather than picking up the phone and calling Ina to clarify some points in the article, Lieberman sent an email to Ina stating in part. "We will be posting on the AB board shortly and we are going to make it very clear that you got the story wrong." He then included a statement about 3rd party checkout did nothing to clarify changes to functionality. Yet again, Usher was unresponsive to Ina's repeated requests for clarification, finally providing a comment that eBay had nothing more to say, resulting in this article.
Ina told Lieberman that if he had a problem working with her, she would happily work with someone else in the PR Department. His response was, "No one else here will work with you, Ina."
In contrast, the PR team from the PayPal side of the company has always been - and continues to be - responsive and professional. That has not changed since Day One. We've also had many eBay managers reach out to us to give us demos of upcoming features and clarify policies. They want users to be aware of new developments, and take the time to walk Ina through the changes, and answer questions in order to get the message out correctly. We've made it clear we welcome this type of communication.
However, the message often doesn't make it past Public Relations, and the issue at hand is larger than eBay's relationship with AuctionBytes. At a time when eBay's business and image are suffering, shutting down communication with their sellers hardly seems to be a constructive move for the company. eBay's current PR team appear to have chosen stonewalling instead of taking advantage of a valuable conduit to their community.
In a December 2008 interview with AuctionBytes, eBay's own Jim Griffith, Senior Manager of Seller Advocacy for the eBay Seller Experience Team, said he felt that in the past year, eBay's communication with sellers had worsened. Griffith gave the corporation an overall grade of "5" on a scale of 1-10, and a grade of "2" (the low end of the scale) for "communicating the "why's of changes and again, providing more transparency and access to the data that eBay sellers desperately need in order to manage their businesses day to day and plan for the future."
Will this change our coverage of eBay? No. What you've been reading here for the past 10 years will continue. Our priority is to give sellers notice about forthcoming changes that could impact their businesses, such as Operation Catalog, which launched 2 months after we wrote about it as eBay's Large Merchant Services API. All of the eBay articles published on our site are taken either from public announcements available to any media outlet, or sent to us by our own sources. AuctionBytes has always given eBay opportunities to include their point of view on issues we write about.
If eBay is unwilling to give us more information or share their perspective on an issue, we'll take it as "business as usual." We'll break a story, eBay will scramble to put their spin on it, tell us that they take issue with our "tone" and the beat will go on. Our main consideration is getting timely information to the sellers who are most impacted by the news.
Some people consider us "pro-eBay," others consider us "anti-eBay." Frankly, we're neither. We've consistently written from the seller's perspective, and asked the questions that we felt they wanted to voice. We'll continue to do so.
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