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07/03/2006

Edelman blog tactics come under scrutiny

* * Updated * *

Edelman's work with bloggers on behalf of Wal-Mart has come under scrutiny in an article in the New York Times today. It seems to come out well, despite some instances of bloggers not revealing that Wal-Mart has provided them with information.

The article relates how a team at Edelman are helping Wal-Mart improve its battered image by reaching out directly to bloggers.

The campaign tactics have included:

  • Identifying bloggers who have written favourably about Wal-mart
  • Contacting them personally and asking if they would like to receive information about Wal-Mart
  • Distributing facts and points of view from Wal-Mart to those bloggers
  • A "war-room" of consultants monitoring and responding to critics
  • Creating a grass-roots "Working Families for Wal-Mart" campaign group
  • Inviting bloggers to a media conference at Wal-Mart's HQ

Reading closely you can see that Edelman have been very careful not to be unethical: they've asked people not to cut and paste from their emails (which would begin to sound like scripted editorials), asked people to declare their communication with the firm and are careful not to be seeming to buy influence with junkets (invitees to their press conference would have to make the trip at their own expense - something few professional journalists would stand for).

Although a cursory glance might prompt some to think that they are being manipulative, they are actually handling this really well as far as I can see. The reason? The team at Edelman mostly seem to be bloggers themselves.

The article also mentions a couple of other instances of major US companies working with bloggers:

Before  General Electric announced a major investment in energy-efficient technology last year, company executives first met with major environmental bloggers to build support. Others have reached out to bloggers to promote a product or service, as Microsoft did with its Xbox  game system and Cingular Wireless has done in the introduction of a new phone.

: : Update: Wise words as usual from Buzzmachine's Jeff Jarvis, who applauds Edelman's blog tactics and then turns the tale on its head by suggesting we put the same standards / scrutiny onto newspaper journalism by the following advice to bloggers approached by PRs:

If you write a post inspired by what you get from a company or its PR agent, say so. If you use facts or quotes from a company, politician, PR agent, or press release, say so. If you get anything from a PR agent — things, business meetings, social events — say so.

And then you know what? You will be way ahead of the press.

I think some newspaper ombudsmen should do PR audits of their papers. How many storiese come from flacks without disclosure? How much of the substance of stories comes from flacks without disclosure? How many benefits accrue from flacks and companies without disclosure?

Yes, take this New York Times article about Walmart and its flacks and turn it on any newspaper and any PR client and then you have a real story.

 

That would be an interesting exercise.

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Comments

It's hard to see this as anything other than a textbook example of how to do it. And you wouldn't really expect anything less from Edelman, who very clearly 'get' the whole blogging thing. (Even to the point of hiring Steve Rubel, the king of PR blogging!)

It's not as if this is a new phenomenon. I can think of plenty of instances where briefing material I've written (or helped write) has been reprinted, virtually verbatim, in newspapers. And of course, we considered that a success. What's the point of a 'press release' otherwise? (Oops, a whole other can of worms, that one!)

Couldn't agree with you more. Many of us talk about how we can use the blogoshpere to listen for feedback on our companies and how we can make our copmany and our products more consumer-focused but few how many of us really think IN-DEPTH about how we would actually do this?

Blogging is about freedom of speech as much as anything, but when our views represent other people, we need to ensure that certain guidelines are followed to ensure that nothing illegal or immoral is posted.

By managing a group of bloggers and getting them to sign-up to an agreement Wal-Mart are simply able to more easily measure the response those posts get NOT restrict the content.

Some of the group may simply decide NOT to post something on a particular topic that Wal-Mart have emailed them. After all, their reputation may extend way beyond Wal-Mart so they have to retain SOME credibility!

How is this any worse to the guinness blog which is actually RUN and POSTED ON by the people who work there?!

At least Edelman has enlisted REAL neutral people!

Indeed - good job, and one to learn from. Very kind of the NYT to unpick the campaign for us... usually people have to write their own case studies ;-)

Nice summary Antony. It would be good now to see which of the Edelman celeb bloggers are in the Walmart war room!

I was one of the persons who ran into this PR firm. The people that received information from a PR firm were not paid nor did they receive anything other that some links to some stories and at most a sentence or two. Though I received many correspondences, I only created a post about one of them. I do however have many posts about free markets, capitalism, and the such dealing with Wal-mart long before I knew about Edelman.

What is missing from this story is the corporate campaign by the unions against Walmart. If they can't get the Wal-mart employees to unionize they are trying another old strategy of propaganda, regulation accusations, along with the help of the pro-union media (which the NY Times author is a member of). What people fail to realize, is that this doesn't hurt Wal-mart. It hurts the hundreds of thousand of employees trying to earn money for their families.

And the Times preaching about ethics...? LOL

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