Edelman Aces PR, NY Times Fails Research

Howie Kurtz writes about the nonflap the NY Times tried to stir up over Walmart and its PR company, Edelman, pitching their spin to bloggers

What’s not in dispute is that what was once dismissed as a pajama-clad brigade is becoming increasingly influential, to the point that giant companies have to worry about what they say.

Howie gives the bloggers the Times poked and prodded equal time to tell their stories (which includes the fact that the Times reporter doesn’t understand that a blockquote is our indication of taking an excerpt… except it’s not something we invented, it comes from academic practices).

Jeff Jarvis of Buzz Machine, The flack flack

Wal-Mart Logo

Public Relations. It’s called public relations because that’s what it’s meant to do–establish relationships between companies and the public. Walmart needed some. They hired Edelman to help them tell their story by providing press releases. Edelman, as part of their effort, enlisted the help of bloggers to get the Walmart message out. Edelman belives in bloggers as a way of reaching people. In editorial, we call this creative thinking. Good firm, good strategy, good execution. Walmart and Edelman get an A in PR.

New York Times on the Web

At the New York Times, however, they didn’t think of it as PR or as creativity. They were looking for a story–with bloggers involved, maybe a scandal. Would it have been a scandal if the writers were small-town newpaper journalists? I don’t think so. You’ll notice The Times tells the story of one blogger weaving in bits about a second making a pile of details sound representative of a large group–but the size of the group isn’t defined. Then sweeping generalizations come. To quote from the article, Wal-Mart Enlists Bloggers in PR Campaign, written by Michael Barbaro,

But the strategy raises questions about what bloggers, who pride themselves on independence, should disclose to readers. Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer, has been forthright with bloggers about the origins of its communications, and the company and its public relations firm, Edelman, say they do not compensate the bloggers.

But some bloggers have posted information from Wal-Mart, at times word for word, without revealing where it came from.

Some bloggers? How many is some? I wonder.

Some bloggers posted them without telling their audience was that a scandal, a mistake,or an innocent lack of knowledge on the part of someone who’s being called an amateur when it’s convenient, but not today?

As a number of people have pointed out, however, bloggers are far from the first people in media to do this. (Dan Gilmor has a good overview of the controversy.) People say all the time that Mainstream Media cover various corporations or government initiatives as if they were just reproducing press releases. What about the Video News Releases, stories planted in the Iraqi press, or a quarter million dollars for favorable coverage of No Child Left Behind?
says Marshall Kirkpatrick in his piece When pitched bloggers go bad: Walmart and the blogosphere

The question is one of knowing intent isn’t it? Knowing intent, in this case, should be considered both on the part of the blogger and on the part of the New York Times reporter–who failed to contact the numerous bloggers who had things to say such as this:

Yours truly is one of the people to which Mr. Barbaro is referring in this last paragraph. I have been “fed” some of these “exclusive nuggets” and have had topics suggested for posting. And though my blog was not mentioned in the Times article, I’d like make to make one thing clear: excluding this one, I have written 12 other posts on Wal-Mart in the last five months. I started writing them long before I knew about or heard from Wal-Mart’s PR firms.

Every one of those posts is original. That is to say, I picked the article, the theme, and everything that was written- every sentence and every word and every typo. I challenge Mr. Barbaro to find even one sentence in those 12 posts that was written first by someone else.

I also have a question or two. How is it that my blog escaped your notice? It is the number one blog in Technorati about Wal-Mart. It has a dozen highly original, detailed, and analytical posts on that firm, each of which averages over 700 words. It’s written by a former MIT professor whose dissertation and first published papers were about information technology in the retailing industry. I ask not out of concern for not having my blog included in the article but because of this: if you missed that, what else did you miss?
— David Starling, The Business of America Is Business

I have to say that the research on The New York Times article leaves a lot out there waiting to be brought forward. The story is much more fascinating than what actually made it into print–just as bloggers are.

Finally this from Rich Edelman’s own blog:

We are proud of our groundbreaking work in reaching out to blogs on behalf of our clients and proud of this work for Wal-Mart. I suspect our clients have benefited hugely from insights gleaned from dialogue with bloggers.
Here are three blog postings from people I know and respect discussing the issues raised in the NY Times article:
The first is from Paul Holmes, editor of the Holmes Report, a PR trade publication. The second is from Jeff Jarvis, a widely respected blogger considered a leader in blog standards. The third is from Dan Gillmor, author of “We The Media.” As always, I appreciate your views.

Update: Robert Scoble suggests blogging — not emailing — is the best way to reach bloggers.

THAT’S an example of someone who “GET’S IT.”

Blogger is starting to feel like it rhymes with “second-class” citizen.

Let’s hire Steve Rubel, a VP at Edelman, and ask him to do PR for bloggers as a group. Then the NY Times can write a piece called Bloggers Enlist Bloggers in PR Campaign.

I like the sound of that one much better.

But then I would.

–ME “Liz” Strauss

Related articles:
Gate Keepers v Amateurs by Jeff Jarvis
Mr. Glocer Don’t Spin Stories to My Fiends


  1. says

    it’s called “selective research”, where they (the MSM Journo) have an end in mind (discredit bloggers/walmart/pr firm) and they do the “selective” research with that end in mind.

    And that’s the good thing about blogging: it’s immediacy and calling out horseshit when they/we see it. :-)

    A collective PR campaign for us bloggers – hmmm, it’s getting to sound like we need it.

  2. says

    It’s morning here – don’t start drinking til at least 10am, unless we’ve never left the bar last night :-)

    Can you imagine the pr buzz if someone did that, say: write an open letter (as a 1 post, blog of course) and get bloggers to sign it – oh, the link love, the write-ups and face-off with MSM.

  3. says

    Yeah, I hear ya. Let’s see now. I’ve taken on the CEO of Reuters and the New York Times. Could we wait until I at least interview with the Tribune? (big Cheshire cat grin)

    Of course I could start building it in the meantime. :)


  4. says

    Hey, it would be fun to get to do that and do this too. They’d be a perfect mix you know. Out front and behind the curtain. Dorothy and OZ meet in the middle.

    I’m still working on the other thing as well while I’m at it. So many fishing poles in the water . . . you’d swear that there wasn’t room for the fish.

    I’ve got to keep corporate writing going. 😛


  5. says

    Hey Liz,

    I think I’ll link to this post just for the “Halibut” (fish joke). 😉

    It’s gotta start somewhere.

    Let us know when you start the real deal, I’m quite sure a lot of us will join the movement.


  6. says

    Hi Joe,
    I like fish jokes. :)

    Thank you, so much for your support!!!!
    Well, This could be the post to link to if you want to.
    Open the gates and let’s see where it goes.

    I’m not sure my name is big enough to pull the noise that John Scott or Andy Hagans did. Someone would have to get the Blog Herald, Bloggers Blog, or other noisy people talking.

    Now, I’m back to thinking outside of the box.


  7. says

    Hey Liz,
    FYI (I still hate acronyms).
    2 Hrs have passed since I wrote my little post and I followed a link back to Technorati from my stats.
    There were 177 posts linked to Michael Barbaro and Bloggers.
    Not too many were in his favor…
    I wonder if he knew the power of Bloggers when he wrote the article?

    Thought you might like to know.


  8. says

    Hi Joe,
    Thanks for the update. I’ve been working behind the curtain, but I’ve noticed some interesting visitors have stopped by . . . including on with the Edelman server IP. :)

    The NYTimes is in a hurry too often when they want to tell THEIR story.

    Person, paper, TV show. I don’t like any of them, if they don’t tell the whole story. If they do then they’re just fine in my book, no matter which way the story goes.


  9. Jim Bruni says

    The jury is in, and Edelman/Walmart has lost the battle for the blogosphere. Check out technorati, last count 14 pages of negative posts on Andy Young. Kurtz was right in his article, but might change his mind if he wrote that story now.

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