I wonder if Richard Edelman — or someone at the PR firm — is regretting that they ever decided to take Wal-Mart on as a client. It wasn’t that long ago that the company started a blogosphere flame war because it provided PR material to bloggers as part of a campaign to win the hearts and minds of America, material that some bloggers used without saying where it came from. Should they have disclosed that? Yes. Was it Edelman’s fault they didn’t? That’s a tougher one to answer. I would argue that it isn’t, but others disagree.
Now, the firm is under fire again for a “fake” blog about how great it is to drive your RV around and park overnight in Wal-Mart parking lots, something I wrote about here and many others have covered as well, including Shel Holtz, Scott Karp and Tony Hung at Deep Jive Interests. So far, no response from either Edelman or its most famous blogger, Steve Rubel. Is the war room on full alert? I would expect so. But one wishes someone would come out and say something — anything.
There’s been a lot written about this, but it’s worth focusing on what exactly the point is. It’s not to beat up on Edelman, which I think is a fine company that does a lot of good work, and seems to want to do the right thing as far as the “conversation” is concerned. And I would argue that it’s not obvious the blog was a “fake” blog — from what I can tell, the people who wrote it really wanted to do such a trip, thought it was genuinely great, and simply got paid by Wal-Mart to do it.
But the disclosure was almost completely lacking — lacking to such an extent that one of the bloggers’ employers wasn’t even clear that there was sponsorship involved. Did Wal-Mart dictate what could be said about the blog? In all likelihood they did. And Edelman probably acquiesced at some point, when they shouldn’t have. If you’re going to try and have a genuine conversation — something Jeremy Wagstaff isn’t even sure is really possible when a PR company is involved — you’re going to have to try a lot harder than that.
Richard Edelman and Steve Rubel have both responded. See my updated post here.