Blogs, splogs, & flogs: Edelman & the Wal-Mart fiasco

Update Oct. 16. Edelman has finally broke the silence: Steve Rubel’s post; Richard Edelman’s post. No word on what exactly went wrong, or why the “process” that Steve talks about took over a week. More later …

If Edelman is the PR agency that “gets it” about blogs and social media, why did they set up a fake blog for Wal-Mart?

Blogs are weblogs. Splogs are spam blogs. Flogs are stealth PR blogs. And as far as we can see today, Edelman set up a flog for Wal-Mart that has now been outted: Wal-Marting Across America.

It’s a sweet story about Jim and Laura RV-ing across America from Wal-Mart to Wal-Mart – staying in store parking lots overnight. The only problem is that Jim and Laura don’t exist … at least not in the way presented in the now-closed blog.

“Laura” is Laura St. Claire, a freelance writer. Jim is James Thresher, a professional photographer and Washington Post employee. Freelancing, apparently, is against his contract with the Post, which has ordered him to return Wal-Mart’s money and remove his photos from the flog. According to that AP story:

Wal-Mart outfitted the RV and turned it over to Thresher and his partner, Laura St. Claire, who drove it cross-country,

What’s shocking is that Wal-Mart is a client of Edeleman, which is the PR agency is supposed to be the one that “gets it” with regard to social media. But this isn’t “getting it,” and in fact is causing the worst kind of nightmare for a PR agency: blowback on its media-bending efforts.

Not only is the Examiner writing about the issue, so is MediaPost and Editor & Publisher. And the bloggers are not being silent.

What are bloggers saying?
In a word: lots. Here’s a sampling …

Jaffe Juice:

This post is not about Wal-Mart. They’ll figure out social media sooner or later.

This post is about Edelman. I’m kind of surprised and a bit amazed quite frankly…as this is the SECOND time they’ve been outed for lack of transparency with the SAME client.

Strategic Public Relations

I’m giving Edelman the Goofus and the Gallant on furthering the use of social media in the public relations industry. This tactic could have worked using full disclosure, just interview the customers and get their stories. It might not have resulted in effusive praise for the giant smiley face, but it would have been interesting nonetheless.

On Message from Wagner Communications:

Pro-Wal-Mart Travel Blog Screeches To A Halt.


International social media champion Edelman Public Relations finds itself the target of accusations it created “a phony blog” as a front for client and retail giant WalMart … Arrived home a few minutes ago (8:45 EDT) and have been unable to find a response on the Edelman website, or any of Edelman’s numerous bloggers.

PR Squared:

This is wrong on so many levels. And it is Strike 3 for Edelman (not Strike 2, as Joseph Jaffe suggests). Edelman, the self-described leader in me2, in transparency, in Social Media PR strategies. (Or, maybe not.)

Thunderous silence from Edelman
Richard Edelman says that “the business community … must recognize a new axis of communications, the horizontal peer to peer conversation.” How peer-to-peer was the Wal-Mart blog? And why is he not responding to the issue?

Steve Rubel is probably the best-known Edelman blogger. He posted twice today … but not a word about the Wal-Mart account.

The Edelman Landing Blog appears to be a conglomeration of all Edelman blogs. Once again, not a word.

Summing it up
Learn the lesson of Scoble, who humanized Microsoft while being honest about the fact that Microsoft paid his mortgage. Learn the lesson of all the other successful corporate bloggers.

  1. You want to start a corporate blog? Great. Be upfront about it.
  2. You want to start a marketing blog and get paid for it? Great. Be honest about who you are.
  3. You want to start a PR blog for your client? Great. Tell us who you are and who your client is.

You want to do that fake stuff? Keep it where it belongs, in mainstream media.


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