My blogging friend Tony Hung pointed me towards a new wrinkle in the ongoing saga of Edelman and Wal-Mart: a story in MediaPost describes how the PR company has essentially come out of the closet on its involvement with two other Wal-Mart blogs — the Working Families for Wal-Mart blog and the PaidCritics blog.

Rather than being anonymous, as they were before, posts on both blogs are now credited to individuals, whose names (first names only) are hyperlinked to bios that clearly say they work for Edelman. There is no mention of who Edelman is, however, or that the PR firm represents Wal-Mart, and there is no link to the Edelman website — and on the “About Us” page there is no mention that Edelman was involved in creating either site, or that both are financed by Wal-Mart.

astroturf

Of course, as more than one commenter has pointed out, pretty much anyone with a functioning brainstem would assume that anything called Working Families for Wal-Mart was obviously being paid for by Wal-Mart, and that any site trying to out and/or bash critics of Wal-Mart was also a paid shill. Which in raises the question that the MediaPost article gets into near the end, and that Tony also mentions:

If you’re being totally transparent, doesn’t that kind of defeat the whole purpose of having such a blog? Feel free to let fly in my comments. BL Ochman says Edelman should be thrown out of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, and Shel Holtz says he thinks even the disclosure of ties doesn’t make the blogs any better. Freelance copywriter Carson has some thoughts here.

Update:

Steve Rubel says Edelman is listening to all comments and wants to do better, and Richard Edelman outlines some of the ways the firm is trying to do that. And Suw Charman has an excellent post on the topic at her Corante blog — she says the Wal-Mart blogs show that “too many people at Edelman think the old school way, about control and being on-message and spin” (Richard Edelman has posted a comment there in which he disagrees with her). My friend Rob Hyndman also has some thoughts about the “atomization of media” that are worth a read.

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Mathew 2406 posts

I'm a Toronto-based former senior writer with Gigaom and my favorite things to write about are social technology, media and the evolution of online behavior

33 Responses to “Does being transparent ruin a PR blog?”
  1. are Edelman PR fronts (yeah there’s irony for you). Well Shel applauds them for at least admitting it now (instead of being outed), B.L. wants their head, or at least their butt out of WOMMA, Mathew ponders if PR folks can really be transparent and do their job (good question). I think this whole fiasco, debacle (anybody have some more words for this?) calls into question, as Mathew and Shel suggest, can PR and blogs actually co-exist?  I don’t think so.  At least not like this.  You just can

  2. are Edelman PR fronts (yeah there’s irony for you). Well Shel applauds them for at least admitting it now (instead of being outed), B.L. wants their head, or at least their butt out of WOMMA, Mathew ponders if PR folks can really be transparent and do their job (good question). I think this whole fiasco, debacle (anybody have some more words for this?) calls into question, as Mathew and Shel suggest, can PR and blogs actually co-exist? I don’t think so.

  3. I prefer “blogging buddy”, or should the situation warrant it, “bloggiferous comrade”. Of course I kid … but thanks all the same ;)

    What a bloody fiasco.
    Has any PR firm actually used blogs in an ethical way?

  4. That’s a good question, Tony. I’m not sure. If any PR bloggers are reading, maybe they would be able to suggest some.

  5. I think that the “authenticity” factor is part of what makes blogging a powerful PR tool. The very act of PR, however, usually falls far short of “authentic.”

    I do think it’s possible to use a blog for PR purposes successfully, but I don’t think the Edelman Wal-Mart strategy is the way to go in the long run. Companies are going to have to find a way to be up front about who they are and why they are blogging if they want to avoid Edelman Excedrin headaches.

    That may require abandoning the notion of securing “grassroots” appeal, and will surely make successful PR blogging tougher…but I do think it’s possible.

  6. That’s an excellent point, Carson. It is the authenticity of blogging that makes it so powerful. But in many ways, traditional PR is as inauthentic as it gets — so does that mean PR and blogs are like matter and anti-matter? As someone once said, sincerity is the key to success — once you can fake that, you’ve got it made :-)

  7. I’m going to state the obvious.

    Wal-Mart should fire Edelman because they are incompetent.

    What exactly has Wal-Mart received for their money?

  8. Well, they’ve gotten a whole lot of BAD publicity in the realm where there were trying to elicit GOOD.

    So, its like they’ve gotten negative value for their money. Which is surprising — how often do you *pay* PR firms to get BAD publicity?

  9. But I thought there was no such thing as bad publicity :-) Or maybe that’s just for movie stars and politicians.

  10. I don’t necessarily think PR and authenticity are mutually exclusive by nature–only in common execution. Rohit Bhargava, I think, does a pretty good job of outlining how it might be possible to capture at least some of the authenticity advantage without making the Edelman error.

    PR practitioners may never be able to snag the full power of blogging as a WOM device, but they can capture enough of it to make it worthwhile.

    Re: Firing Edelman… Makes sense to me. Wal-Mart really needs to consider firing everyone who has ever been involved in their online pursuits. Their actual commerce pages are less than attractive, their faux MySpace tanked, and now this. Maybe some outfits should just stick to brick and mortar?

    CDB

  11. […] Could Edelman Give Birth to a SockPuppet Future? October 20th, 2006 at 6:58 pm by Tony Well, in the wake of the flog-admission and the coverage its getting, it looks like the Edelman saga has finally hit the trades, with an article in Advertising Age. There are a few interesting tidbits, but what’s really quite surprising is how it ends off: In explaining how such a mistake could happen, Mr. Rand of Ketchum noted that in recent interviews with candidates for Ketchum’s new media public-relations practice, many “are boastful about how they go into blogs and post anonymously and have great success. These are thoughtful, smart people, but they thought this was OK.” […]

  12. […] Mathew Ingram function tgb_closewindow () { window.location.href = “http://www.mathewingram.com/work/2006/10/20/does-being-transparent-ruin-a-pr-blog/”; } […]

  13. Does being transparent ruin a PR blog? — Mathew Ingram…

  14. Tony, the response to your question, \”Has any PR firm actually used
    blogs in an ethical way?\” is — yes, sure. Here are two examples:

    — General Motors\’ Fastlane Blog [1] — its success is the result of the
    collaboration between GM and Hass MS&L [2]. The two companies have won
    the 2006 PR Week Awards for Best Use of the Internet [3] and PR
    Innovation of the Year [4] for this project.

    –the Chocolate Blog [5], launched to support the LG Chocolate Phone
    blogger relations program. The blog was/is written by three members of
    Hill & Knowlton’s UK social media team; their identity [6] and the fact
    they are writing for a client [7] were made clear from the start [8],
    and one of the H&K bloggers, Niall Cook, has discussed what they learned
    [9] from this program on his blog.

    [1] http://fastlane.gmblogs.com
    [2] their blog: http://www.blogworks.org
    [3] PR Week Awards/Best Use – http://tinyurl.com/y4t5px
    [4] PR Week Awards/Innovation: http://tinyurl.com/y3wwsw
    [5] http://chocolate.lgbloggers.com
    [6] identity disclosure: http://tinyurl.com/yx4b97
    [7] client disclosure: http://tinyurl.com/y8w42h
    [8] disclosure from the start: http://tinyurl.com/y4wr3t
    [9] lessons learned: http://tinyurl.com/y3alm7

  15. Wow — what a great reply. I should have remembered the fast lane blog; its mentioned in Naked Conversations. I love the references! :)

    Let me rephrase the question:

    Has any PR firm had success with using blogs when the client was swirling in controversy, and may actually have something to hide? (perhaps Scoble’s own blog is an example … hmmm …. )

  16. I think the issue is more that PR and blogs is about successfully faking sincerity – which contains within it the implication that there are times when they will unsuccessfully fake sincerity.

    I haven’t seen any evidence that this will discourage future attempts, huffing and puffing from blog evangelists to the contrary.

  17. PR and blogging are like oil and water. They don’t mix. But snake oil salespeople will tell you they do.

    WOMMA is like an Alcoholics Anonymous that says members can drink on special occasions.

    Wal-Mart was doing fine until it started listening to the snake oil salesmen. People didn’t always like them, but at least it was honest.

  18. […] The issue is covered in some detail by my friend Mathew, so I won’t dwell on the detail here. But it strikes me as I watch this event unfold that the PR industry still has some learnin’ to do. And I’m not thinking of the specifics of the Walmart case so much as the fundamental relationship between information and control. Social media has essentially atomized information control – that much is obvious now, and if anything the process is accelerating. But PR is invariably about centrally controlling or influencing the meaning and flow of information. Invariably, it seems to me, this has to confront the subversive and insurgent nature of social media. […]

  19. Wow. Interesting one. Tranparency and PRs.. do they come together? ;P Well, I think PR and marketing need to be hyped or a little exaggerated… its SELLING for goodness sake! Its portraying the “best” of the company.

    Blogs should give PRs an opportunity to leak some more light into the real facts, but I feel that TOTAL transparency will ruin PR!

  20. […] Mathew Ingram: mathewingram.com/work. Of course, as more than one commenter has pointed out, pretty much anyone with a functioning brainstem would assume that anything called Working Families for Wal-Mart was obviously being paid for by Wal-Mart, and that any site trying to out and/or bash critics of Wal-Mart was also a paid shill. Which in raises the question that the MediaPost article gets into near the end, and that Tony also mentions: If you’re being totally transparent, doesn’t that kind of defeat the whole purpose of having such a blog?Something called "Working Families for Wal-Mart" funded by the company is not a PR blog its an astroturfing blog. Deception is built into the idea. That’s why being transparent about the blog kills it as an idea. […]

  21. Yes I agree with you on the whole. I think wallmart should have been honest instead of trying to produce propaganda which is hurting the image now.

    Thank you for sharing this story with me !

  22. […] Does being transparent ruin a PR blog? » Mathew Ingram: mathewingram.com/work A great story, but the comments make this very noteworthy. Well done, Constantin. (tags: blogs PR ethics) Filed under: Links   |   Tags: No Tags. […]

  23. […] Deep Jive Interests, Could Edelman Give Birth to a SockPuppet Future?: Well, in the wake of the flog-admission and the coverage its getting, it looks like the Edelman saga has finally hit the trades, with an article in Advertising Age. There are a few interesting tidbits, but what’s really quite surprising is how it ends off: In explaining how such a mistake could happen, Mr. Rand of Ketchum noted that in recent interviews with candidates for Ketchum’s new media public-relations practice, many “are boastful about how they go into blogs and post anonymously and have great success. These are thoughtful, smart people, but they thought this was OK.” […]

  24. […] To catch up on the facts and issues, take a look at Mathew Ingram’s post […]

  25. […] [Update] Here is an excellent summary of the issues raised by Matthew Ingram.  Some commenters claim that PR and blogging don’t mix.  Constantin Basturea’s comment mentions a couple of successful blogs engineered by PRs at MS&L (Fastlane) and Hill & Knowlton (LG Chocolate phone). […]

  26. […] This is why I immediately resolved to do something about it and began to organize a Social Media Club Roundtable for Wednesday October 25 called “Talking About Disclosure.” What I hope we get from the event is a great discussion about the best practices around disclosure of interests in pursuit of a common understanding of how to properly apply the principles of transparency and authenticity. The conversation has already begun, with great articles written by Jason Calcanis (older but relevant post), Shel Holtz, Matthew Ingram and Todd Defren. We want to bring that conversation into real time, with a focus on the solution. Also, we want to move from conversation to action, so we are hoping that we can produce a set of guidelines to recommend as best practices for people to use, which will ultimately be a part of the pledge we ask members to make when joining Social Media Club. We also will address WOMMA’s lack of action on the Edelman fiasco which is a point Shel Holtz makes in his post – though I don’t know what we can do differently. […]

  27. […] There’s an event via the Social Media Club regarding blogging and disclosure. The Edelman flap regarding a Wal-Mart blog continues to stir around, seeming to center around some now wanting even more disclosure from certain blogs because others don’t have enough. Here’s some more reading on the subject (from Social Media Club): Jason Calacanis explains all his influences, Mathew Ingram, and lastly PR Squared. […]

  28. […] with del.icio.us   |   Email this entry   |   TrackBack URI   |   Digg it   |   Track with co.mments   |     |   Cosmos Click here forcopyright permissions! Copyright 2006 Mathew Ingram […]

  29. […] We all know that marketers are targeting bloggers, hoping to get some word-of-mouth going. And it seems they are going after mommy bloggers in particular, no doubt influenced by recent stats that say most moms prefer receiving advice about products from other moms. Here’s an anecdote that appeared in Saturday’s National Post from the recent Motherlode conference in Toronto, where Jen Lawrence of MUBAR (Mothered Up Beyond All Recognition) spoke.When she wrote a wry post about the idiocy of Tom Cruise, her blog hit the mainstream and she was deluged: “Would I be interested in sampling a baby blanket worth several hundred dollars? Would I be interested in offering my readers access to exclusive [advertising] content? Would I like two tickets to the sold-out show of my daughter’s favourite TV character? According to the story, Ms. Lawrence – a former banker turned blogger – says “the extent to which these blogs are becoming commercial ventures should give pause to the mothers who turn to them for sage counsel”: “It is an open and honest medium with such great potential for community-building and I just hate the idea that marketers are actively trying to infiltrate our conversations.”Throughout the blogosphere, the same conundrum keeps cropping up. Blogs are a direct conduit to people who care about a particular subject, and the fact that they are open and honest also makes them tremendously appealing to marketers, who naturally want to hitch a ride on all that openness. But then marketing – particularly if done badly (see the Edelman-Wal Mart controversy) inevitably detracts from the very things that make blogs powerful in the first place. It’s a Catch-22. Of course, Rob Hyndman says that blogs aren’t always as honest as we might want to think they are. Add to Del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit | Furl Bookmark WebProNews: View All Articles by Mathew Ingram Receive Our Daily Email of Breaking eBusiness News About the Author: Mathew Ingram [note only one “t” in Mathew] is a technology writer and blogger for the Globe and Mail, a national newspaper based in Toronto, and also writes about the Web and media at http://www.mathewingram.com/work and http://www.mathewingram.com/media. WebProNews RSS Feed More Blog Talk Articles Contact WebProNews […]

  30. […] posted to newpr by cbasturea Oct 24 Comment » 10 promote +3 […]

  31. The reputation of the PR profession is at an all-time low because so many journalists, bloggers and consumers view it as propaganda or spin. But companies are waking up to the realization that effective participation in the world of consumer-generated media (where their brands are defined) must be transparent, open and honest. The Wal-Mart Edelman fiasco demonstrates the incredible downside to manipulative PR. Companies embracing higher standards of communications ethics will be richly rewarded in the marketplace. More at http://jon8332.typepad.com/force_for_good/

  32. […] Marketers Going After Mommy Bloggers By Mathew Ingram Expert Author Article Date: 2006-10-30 We all know that marketers are targeting bloggers, hoping to get some word-of-mouth going. And it seems they are going after mommy bloggers in particular, no doubt influenced by recent stats that say most moms prefer receiving advice about products from other moms. Here’s an anecdote that appeared in Saturday’s National Post from the recent Motherlode conference in Toronto, where Jen Lawrence of MUBAR (Mothered Up Beyond All Recognition) spoke.When she wrote a wry post about the idiocy of Tom Cruise, her blog hit the mainstream and she was deluged: “Would I be interested in sampling a baby blanket worth several hundred dollars? Would I be interested in offering my readers access to exclusive [advertising] content? Would I like two tickets to the sold-out show of my daughter’s favourite TV character? According to the story, Ms. Lawrence – a former banker turned blogger – says “the extent to which these blogs are becoming commercial ventures should give pause to the mothers who turn to them for sage counsel”: “It is an open and honest medium with such great potential for community-building and I just hate the idea that marketers are actively trying to infiltrate our conversations.”Throughout the blogosphere, the same conundrum keeps cropping up. Blogs are a direct conduit to people who care about a particular subject, and the fact that they are open and honest also makes them tremendously appealing to marketers, who naturally want to hitch a ride on all that openness. But then marketing – particularly if done badly (see the Edelman-Wal Mart controversy) inevitably detracts from the very things that make blogs powerful in the first place. It’s a Catch-22. Of course, Rob Hyndman says that blogs aren’t always as honest as we might want to think they are. Add to Del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit | Furl Bookmark WebProNews: About the Author:Mathew Ingram [note only one “t” in Mathew] is a technology writer and blogger for the Globe and Mail, a national newspaper based in Toronto, and also writes about the Web and media at http://www.mathewingram.com/work and http://www.mathewingram.com/media. […]

  33. cool! thanks a lot ! I like this post very much

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