Saturday, March 11, 2006

Fifteen Minutes of Shame

from eastwikkers:

On the eve of the PRSA/Puget Sound event, I met with a few of the organizers for dinner. One of my dinner companions, a young PR pro, led a discussion about the recent Edelman/Wal-Mart blogger "scandal." She thought it was strange that the now infamous Edelman blogger had been doing outreach to the already converted -- a preaching-to-the-choir strategy. Wouldn't it be more effective, she argued, if Edelman/Wal-Mart tried reaching out to the unconverted. I quickly pointed to the elephant in the room. Sticking with the converted has worked very well for Republican political campaigns, given the Democrat's historic struggle to find a single voice. So practically speaking, wasn't the blogger's strategy smart if not ethical? The table sort of agreed, but I later realized why I was wrong and my younger colleague was right: Wal-Mart is not running for president. It is attempting to rehabilitate its image in a medium where there is hyper-transparency. How do you think the unconverted and the "MSM" (the mainstream media) felt reading the blogger's email, posted for everyone to read in The New York Times? I doubt Wal-Mart profited from last week's publicity.

A number of PR people appear to be OK with the Edelman/Wal-Mart team's approach (Shel Holtz is one), and it's because the debate has mostly revolved around whether what the team did was wrong or right. Putting aside ethics, we can still agree that what the team did, in retrospect, was counter-productive. I wouldn't call it a scandal (worse things have happened, and the Edelman agency has a well-deserved reputation for integrity), but I would call it a communications crisis, and it was caused in part by the people who are supposed to handle crisis communications. Lesson learned, I'll bet.

UPDATE: In another story this week (New York Observer), Richard Edelman talks about the shift of power from reporters to bloggers:

“It used to be I would schmooze you and I was your flack,” said Mr. Edelman, whose firm netted about $260 million in 2005. “Today, if we want to get a message into the public’s conversation, we just make a post on a blog. If The Wall Street Journal goes after a client, we don’t have to accept that anymore. Let’s post the documents we gave The Journal; let’s show the interviews the newspaper decided not to show.

“You’re not God anymore,” he said.

Tis true. Along with transparency comes the democratization of influence. Tough new world, and we applaud Richard Edelman for traversing it, and for taking a few of the bruises along the way as we figure things out.

We used to talk about 15 minutes of fame. In the new world we will all have 15 minutes of shame.

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