Wal-Mart/Edelman: Will the Real Issue Please Stand Up

by Marianne Richmond on October 23, 2006

To Tell the Truth, according to Wikipedia aired from the first edition in 1956 until the fifth edition in 2002 with some time off in between editions. The game show’s premise was that three contestants all claiming to be the "real" person are questioned by a panel of celebrities and introduced with the line, "Number One, what is your name please?" The segment ended with the line. "Will the real _____please stand up?"

Will the real issue, please stand up?

So in its current incantation, we have "Jim" and "Laura", the Wal-Mart loving, RV tripping bloggers for Working Families for Wal-Mart who were busted on another blog, the Wal-Mart Watch Blog as imposters to use another phrase from "To Tell the Truth." They are in fact Jim Thresher, a photographer and journalist for the Washington Post and Laura St. Claire, "a freelance writer who works with the Treasury Department."

It so happens that they forgot to mention that they were being paid by Wal-Mart for their adventure and its blog posts. According to BusinessWeek "Laura says she doesn’t feel like she has mislead anyone." Phew! What a relief that is.

Jim Thrasher’s employer, the Washington Post had ethical issues with Jim, the Working Families for Wal-Mart blogger and asked that he reimburse Working Families for what they paid him. I guess the Washington Post understood the issue. Thanks to Tish Grier for highlighting this part of the game show on Blogher.

It seems that Working Families, supposedly a grassroots organization, was started by Edelman PR and ditto for the subsidiary,  Paid Critics. And, Edelman employees write the two blogs. Yes, write the two blogs without a byline. I think this could clearly be another segment for To Tell the Truth:
Will the real employer of the bloggers please stand up?

According to Media Post, The Paid Critics blog is devoted to "exposing" links between unions and
other vested interests that are "smearing Wal-Mart" through the media." Sounds like the authors are passionate about the topic. But they stood up and the responsible parties, the blog’s authors,  three junior Edelman employees. Unsupervised? Untrained? Did we miss something here?

Has the whole truth stood up? BL Ochman , one of the few bloggers to stand firm, comments on the WOMMA blog, "Edelman’s excuses sound more and more lame by the minute. Three junior
execs are responsible. Yeah right. They won’t do it any more. Who cares?"

OK, next guests. We have Richard Edelman, who writes, "We are establishing a 24/7 hotline so our me2revolution team can review, provide counsel and apply best practice guidelines on social
media programs before their implementation. This ensures that programs adhere to the WOMMA guidelines or best-in-class standards around the world."

But he also wrote, on his own blog after the first Wal-mart/Edelman fiasco, "First, we must always be transparent about the identity of our client and the goal of the PR program. Second, we should ask permission to participate in the conversation, and be comfortable with any
communication being made public, whether by the blogger or an investigative journalist. We should support bloggers’ transperancy re. the source of their information. Third, we must reveal any financial relationship with bloggers, whether consulting or even reimbursement of trip expenses. Fourth, we must ensure that the information we provide is 100% factually correct and not "spin."

C’mon, don’t be an imposter here. This isn’t new social media ethics…this is ethics.  I read the above on your blog in March, the blog you write you said, " because I want another way to communicate with the nearly 2000 people of Edelman". To quote Shaw, "The problem with communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished?"  Or, in fact is there not an existing corporate culture at Edelman for the PR that is practiced that would call most of this subterfuge into question with or without blogging?

Stand up. Take responsibility. Clean it up. Don’t include us. You have hurt all of our credibility. This erodes trust…not just trust that clients have in Edelman, or in any agency or consultant; it erodes trusts in what is the very heart of word of mouth and the culture of blogs, "that the "people like us" who are writing those blogs are who we say we are, believe in what we are writing and advocating, and are otherwise worthy of trust.

Don’t ask us for group hugs and feedback like we are supposed to feel included and believe that Steve Rubel needs input to train employees in social media. Seems like there is lots of great content in the Edelman/Rubel portfolio.

As Toby writes on  Diva Marketing, "Social Media is an emerging industry. The hard earned credibility of blogs / social media as a marketing strategy can be blown away by companies who don’t take it seriously."

As Spike Jones from Brains on Fire wrote, "Edelman has hurt Brains on Fire. Edleman has hurt the other members of WOMMA and the honest marketers out there that have already invested a lot of time, effort and brain power educating our current and potential clients to check out this word of mouth thing. This is a huge setback."

Wal-Mart’s reputation "issues" that required Edelman PR to invent readers and writers seems to have little to do with their financial performance. Their products are tangibles and their customers shop there because of another tangible, price. Our reputations and our products are intangibles; credibility and trust are important components….eventually erosion effects financial performance.

As the chart indicates, despite all of the revelations about Wal-Mart….financial performance improved. Maybe this just says that the old adage is true, negative attention is better than no attention at all. Or, that despite the 50 million blogs being tracked by Technorati
(good point on that one Strumpette)


Last round of "To Tell the Truth"…..Will the real Amanda Chapel please stand up. You make some good points,  but Andy is right about an anonymous blogger demanding disclosure of others. Not that your lack, excuses their lack. Its just doesn’t seem quite in sync.

Like similarly,  I don’t understand the use of the word "Debate" as it relates to disclosure at WOMMA. There really is nothing to debate about disclosure, is there?

Whats the real issue? TRUST.

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