Watching the wreckage…

While undoubtedly there’s a lot of excellent discourse taking place around the most recent Edelman snafu, a lot of the commentary is little more than rubbernecking.

I’m always nervous of taking a holier than thou position in these situations as it doesn’t take a lot for it to explode in your ever so smug face – unless you’re anonymous of course, but, then if you are anonymous what value has your opinion?

Let me digress for a moment. If you are posting anonymously, how can you criticize the manner in which other people are getting involved in the conversation? Anyone spot the irony?

Edelman screwed up. It’s a little more surprising because it’s strike two and if memory serves me correctly the first episode also concerned Wal*Mart.

But is it the end of the world? Nope.

I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

Two pieces of advice I’d give them (if they were listening) are firstly they took too long to come clean and give a statement – I doubt they’d wait so long for a client – particularly as they had all the facts! Secondly maybe it’s me – and I do NOT want to be picky but I’d highlight this comment from Edelman’s post:

Let me reiterate our support for the WOMMA guidelines on transparency, which we helped to write. Our commitment is to openness and engagement because trust is not negotiable and we are working to be sure that commitment is delivered in all our programs.

The term “which we helped write” jarred with me for a couple of reasons.  Firstly is he trying to promote thought leadership in an apology? It was unnecessary.  Secondly if you helped to write them and you’ve already fouled twice on the same issue… that raises questions n’est pas?

Anyway, no big deal, move on, and for the love of all that’s holy get your act together.

PS: Fair play to Mr. Edelman, he’s posting his socks off in the comments…

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4 thoughts on “Watching the wreckage…

  1. Tom:

    To me this issue is not really about Wal-Mart or about Edelman. They just happen to be the players, but the lessons are very real for everyone.

    The problem with immediately dismissing it is that we tend to not learn anything unless we delve into the details — it’s not enough to simply say “next time we’ll be more transparent.” What does that mean in today’s world?

    If being more transparent simply means that next time, an agency will use both the first and last names for flog writers, then I’m afraid we haven’t learned very much.

    That’s why I’m discouraged to see so many PR bloggers shy away from commenting beyond “here was the issue” and “here was Edelman’s response.” No one seems to want to get to the root of the matter and that is, what constitutes proper disclosure for a corporate blog that is “sponsored” by a front group?

    There are all kind of gray areas when it comes to the work that is being produced on behalf of the world’s largest retailer and it’s important that we have some discussion as to what constitutes appropriate communication and appropriate disclosure.

  2. Hi John,

    I agree with you, this episode ranges from negligent to the worst elements of astroturfing. There’s a lot of commentary out there, some of it balanced and insightful, some of it nothing more than thinly veiled competitive attacks.

    Given this is the second mis-step I think Edelman would be well advised to tread carefully – however it’s also important that while understanding the lesson we don’t go overboard. That’s my point, but I agree it does raise some issue.


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  4. As usual, Tom, you make a fair point: It is easy to point fingers; and just as easy to screw up. Call me naive, but I don’t imagine that many of these agency decisions to create fake blogs or post under pseudonyms for clients are many guilty PR practitioners’ first choices. I can picture firms proposing to their clients what many of us consider to be ideal alternatives: the client’s CEO blogging, full disclosure when commenting on behalf of clients, etc. But the practitioner faces push- back on their proposal — “our CEO doesn’t have time” or “who wants to hear from a PR person on a blog” — and goes back to the drawing board. Excited to be doing anything new-media related on behalf of a client, they make compromises. I’m not saying it’s right, and my current employer would never allow it, but anybody that has been in PR — heck, business — has been swallowed up by a similar dynamic. The solution, obviously, is for the industry to start leaving money on the table and not do this stuff unless we can do it right. What will get the industry there? For some, it will be losing money. For others, it’ll be shame. And the few saints out there who’ve never done anything unethical will write the chapter in the PRSA book.

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