Tag - edelman

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.

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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.

Edelman, Wal-Mart, Steve Rubel: head, meet sand

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 …

It’s been almost a week. The blogosphere is talking about Edelman, Wal-Mart, and the fake blog. I added my three cents a few days ago.

In short, we’ve been waiting, listening, and watching for the explanation. Or the mea culpa. But none has been forthcoming.

Steve, you need to speak up
I hate to put this all on Steve, but sorry, you’re the best-known highly-placed Edelman blogger. And it’s not like you haven’t posted recently.

Your blog’s about page identifies that you are Edelman’s thought leader on social media:

Rubel is charged with helping Edelman identify, test, incubate and champion new forms of communications that get people talking across new platforms and channels.

Well guess what – no one needs leadership when everything is fine. Leadership is required when the smelly stuff hits the fan. And yes, right now it is hitting the fan – hard.

Yeah, it is conversational media
Steve, your blog also claims that you are “widely viewed as an expert on conversational marketing.” I think most people in the blogosphere would agree wth that assessment.

But what happens to the conversation when one participant doesn’t speak?

When that happens, there is no conversation. There’s no communication. And you have no chance to even influence or affect the thoughts and actions of your potential clients, your potential allies, your potential listeners.

We’re making it up as we go along
Just because you’re not talking doesn’t mean we won’t talk. And if you won’t tell us your side of the story, it won’t be told. This is strikingly similar to the Marshall Manson incident, which raised questions about Edelman, Wal-Mart, and proper disclosure of interest.

In response to that incident, Richard Edelman said the following:

Let me get the disclosure out of the way. Edelman is the PR firm working with bloggers as part of a Wal-Mart corporate image campaign. Edelman is transparent about its relationship with Wal-Mart in our communications to bloggers. It’s clear who we represent.

So get the disclosure out of the way
As I noted in my first post on Edelman and Wal-Mart, Jaffe Juice has said that “this is the SECOND time they’ve been outed for lack of transparency with the SAME client.”

How transparent is Edelman? How much disclosure is there? How clear is it who you represent? Your silence is deafening. The answers to those questions is unclear.

My suggestion: make it clear. Now.

Consequences: blowback
This will hit TechMeme, and the consequences could be severe.

For example, how effective do you think any further social media campaigns sponsored by Edelman will be if bloggers don’t trust you? And how successful will Edelman be if it cannot deliver social media PR results to its clients?

The answer to both questions is, obviously: not very.

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Other blogs discussing this issue:

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.