Edelman & Wal-Mart: is the apology enough?

So: Steve Rubel and Richard Edelman have both issued a mea culpa in the Wal-Mart flog saga. Is it enough? For a number of reasons, no. Not even close.

Dave Taylor certainly doesn’t think so. He blogs on Business Blog Consulting and The Intuitive Life Business Blog that Edelman’s getting an easy ride – they’re getting off the hook (almost) scot-free:

I’m just amazed at what an easy ride Edelman is getting with this significant and notable error of judgment on their part. It’s not about apologizing for a screwup, it’s being accountable to a code of ethics, having consequences for violating it, and having a sufficiently transparent internal management structure that lets experts like Steve Rubel at least know about all the blogging initiatives happening at the firm

Others agree. Check out the comments on Matthew Ingram’s Edelmam/Wal-Mart post. One poster in particular, Dominic Jones, feels that the apology is at best tainted, and certainly not adequate. (Dominic has blogged about transparency and PR.) As he says on Matthew Ingram’s blog:

So how do you explain three days before there was a response from Edelman? Either they are very slow thinkers and have great difficulty telling right from wrong, or they were doing something else.

My view, based on my experience both as an investigative journalist and a PR consultant, is they were waiting to see what would happen, hoping it would blow over.

Robert Scoble, on the other hand, is among a group of others that are more inclined to be forgiving. Lance Knobel, Li at Search Marketing, Pleon, and even Shel Holz (to a degree) seem to take that tack. As Scoble says in the comments to his post:

Personally if I ever screw up I hope people forgive me, especially after I recognize that a mistake has been made and I’ve apologized for it and made strides to make sure it never happens again.

Great point. I fully realize that people make mistakes. I do too – every day. If we can’t forgive each other, we’re in for very unhappy lives. If I can’t forgive people, I have a problem … and if others can’t forgive me when I screw up, we both have a problem.

The challenging thing for me on this forgiveness thing with Edelman is the following:

  1. It’s happened before
    As Jaffe Juice pointed out … this is the second time Edelman has done this: just with Wal-Mart, that is. PR Squared says it’s actually the third time. And those are just the ones we know about! And just with one client! 
  2. The apology is short on details
    A few more details would be very welcome. Richard Edelman’s post was a couple of paragraphs, Steve Rubel’s just one. When there’s a public screw-up affecting your credibility, you need to say what happened, why, how, and, most importantly, how you’re going to ensure it will never happen again. 
  3. It’s part of a pattern of shady PR tactics
    Maybe it’s just me, but I consider other sites and campaigns like PaidCritics to be shady PR as well. PaidCritics is not a grass-roots operation (do they think we don’t know that the people behind that site are paid too?!?), and neither is the Working Families for Wal-Mart site, which is supposedly “giving voice to millions of Americans.” 

    Come on. Both of these are astroturf. Astroturf is shady.

    IR Web shows us how corporate community-building can be done correctly, transparently, with sites like Ford’s Bold Moves website, Chevron’s Will You Join Us site and Allianz’s dropping knowledge.

So – forgiveness is necessary and good. But so is proper openess and discussion of what when wrong and how your going to fix it.

And I haven’t seen that yet from Edelman.

. . .
. . .

Update:
Tara Hunt has an excellent post on fake blogs that mentions the Edelman issue … and delves into why it happens: because PR agencies put their clients ahead of their clients’ clients. And you have to see Hugh McLeod’s Edelman/Wa-Mart cartoon.

Update: October 26:
Strumpette has a follow-up on the WOMMA (Word of Mouth Marketing Association) and their non-discipline of Edelman. Worth a read.

 


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