Caught In The PR Crossfire

There’s a bloatospheric storm brewing over Wal-Mart’s “fake” blog, Wal-Marting Across America. John at Biz Hack calls it a “flog,” otherwise known as a stealth PR blog. Bottom line, it lacks transparency—the very thing Wal-Mart’s PR agency likes to trumpet.
And it’s not just Edelman on the line, here. Editor & Publisher reports on the real world repercussions now faced by one of the two floggers.

A photographer for The Washington Post, who shot photos during a cross-country trip for a pro-Wal-Mart web site, broke the paper’s policy about freelancing and has been ordered to remove the photos, Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. said Wednesday.
Jim Thresher, a 25-year Post photographer who took the trip during a vacation, also must pay back the travel expenses covered by Working Families for Wal-Mart, a group that advocates for the chain and used the photos on its Web site. “Any type of professional act performed by one of our journalists has to be considered freelance and it must follow our guidelines,” Downie told E&P. “Which include not working for a competitor or an interest group.”

The other flogger, Laura St. Claire gives her side in a post called “The Final Word.”

Thanks to an organized Wal-Mart opposition group, the whole world now knows who Jim and I are, where we live, what our home life is like and where we work. We didn’t disclose all that stuff in the beginning, of course, for a couple of reasons. We kept our last names and personal lives out of it because of concerns about our privacy.
We had heard that Wal-Mart’s critics could be vicious in their attacks. Now we know those concerns were valid. And we kept our professional lives out of it — where we work and what we do for a living — because this was not about the organizations we work for – I did this blog because I thought it would make a great story. Jim did this because we live together. We took vacation time in order to make this trip. We weren’t out there as representatives of our employers, or anybody at all but ourselves.

As for Edelman’s role, prominent author/blogger Shel Holtz doesn’t like it.

Those smart PR folks working for Edelman are among the members of the PR community who advocate participation in the conversation. Some of them have been brutal when, to their way of thinking, somebody else fails to understand what it means to be engage in the conversation. So where is Edelman in this particular conversation? Missing in action. As dismaying as this latest misstep is, it’s even more dismaying to see Edelman’s high-powered social media experts failing to walk the talk. Nothing from Richard in his vaunted 6 a.m. blog. Nothing from Steve, who blogs at the pinnacle of PR’s A-list. Nothing from anybody (based on a Technorati search and a survey of the Edelman blogs).

When you consider why Edelman execs are not talking, it doesn’t take long to figure out. You can espouse your belief in the path of righteousness all you want, but when the client–in this case a massive, totally loaded client–says, “I want it done!” the agency gets it done. It’s a battle lost. It does not mean the war is over. Rubel and Gomes and the rest will live to fight another day.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.