Attribution in Industry Analyst Research

Last Updated Aug 6, 2007 3:55 AM EDT

Is it ethical to interview a vendor spokesperson -- then paraphrase their thoughts, call it "original research," and then charge the community (including the same vendor who supplied the thoughts) for access? In my opinion, to put that on any higher moral ground than literally plagiarizing someone's written words would be splitting hairs.

But the practice of stealing vendor ideas without attribution, then charging for access to them is another ugly, yet normalized behavior in the industry analyst quagmire (at least in IT, where I've spent most of my career).

There are some truly outstanding industry analysts out there whose insights are original and as respectably close to unbiased as could be expected (read "Industry Analyst Dirty Pool (Recognize It, Then Get Over It)"). Often this category of analyst actually had some sort of real world experience in the industry they are commenting on (for example, if that industry is IT ... they were a sys admin, or a software engineer, or whatever). This individual has the necessary context to put their own value-added opinion on top of the information that they gather, and THAT is what they are charging access to.

But there is another (and very prevalent) class of analyst / analyst firm that is basically in the plagiarism business. They have created turnkey operations of setting up briefings, recording the interviews, pulling the compelling soundbytes and ideas into reports, and then selling the reports under the auspices of "original research." Throw in a couple of snarky comments in the analysis of the vendors mentioned in the report (so they'll feel compelled by fear to build a "better relationship") -- and boom, that's the formula for this class of "research" report.

And beyond the theft of the ideas that make up the bulk of the "research," often what you see is a very dishonest representation of the distribution of said reports. This class of analyst firm claims that they are widely read by end users (and that's what makes the vendors complicit in the whole thing). But for the offending analyst firms in this category -- by my observation -- the vast majority of the actual readership is comprised of the victims (err, vendors) that are caught in this rigamarole (actually ... their investors read it a lot too, because said analyst firms forward THEM the reports for free to further perpetuate the facade of the influence of the reports).

Have you (or your client, if you're a PR firm) ever had an idea liberally used by an analyst firm (without attribution)? Should a vendor that participates significantly in an industry analyst research report be given free access to the report after it's been published?

Image courtesy of digihuman's photostream on flickr creative commons.