James Bruni's take on the Wal-mart/Edelman incident

Originally created Saturday, 02 September, 2006I really appreciate that people take interest in the topic I discuss in my blog. One that does is James Bruni, President of Bruni PR New York. James represents a view that criticise some of the major PR agencies use of blogging in market campaigns. I think it is interesting to present different takes on the subject and since James was kind enough to send me a copy of his op-ed on Edelman’s involvement in the Wal-mart incident earlier this year I would like to publish this for others to read.

Aug. 22, 2006


By James Bruni

"We absolutely want Wal-Mart's story to be in a discussion, in a conversation. That's the essence of the blogosphere," said Richard Edelman on a CNN interview on March 13. As the proverb says, watch out what you wish for.

The Andrew Young/Wal-Mart/Edelman fiasco is the talk of the blogosphere and most of the conversation isn't very pretty. That begs the question: Can a PR firm really manage the cyberspace debate? As Bob Marley said, "When you play with fire, yah gonna get burned."

In a speech in London just a few months ago, Edelman offered some of the following "tips" for reaching out to the blogosphere:

"If there's a mistake about your company, about your product, send them an e-mail, raise your hand. They will correct it. That's what our studies show very clearly. Either by striking through and writing 'here's the fact.' Or, by correcting. One or the other. Very few of them will leave an inaccurate post."

One wonders if there is an army of young Edelman account executives busy this week answering bloggers who chimed in on the Young scandal: "We are sorry, but Andy didn't mean what he said ... and after all, Wal-Mart has fired him, so what's the big deal. Please post this on your blog." The fact is that PR firms can't control the blogosphere any better than they controlled those old media institutions -- New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Business Week, etc. Big PR firms are learning that the blogosphere is no answer for a company like Wal-Mart that really needed a more traditional media relations lobbying campaign. There's just no way to get around the mainstream media. That's the lesson we learned during the past several days. The blogosphere is a great place to promote new products, but ideas are another matter. There's a world of difference between promoting a new software app or tech product on slashdot, engadget, or robingood.com and trying to promote Wal-Mart as a good corporate citizen that is being "victimized" by the left-leaning liberal press.

Sure, you can sell that idea (as Edelman did) to the right wingers who run the political blogs, but the blogosphere is more complicated that Edelman envisioned. As for PR firms, we need to refocus our attention on the old media while keeping an eye on the blogosphere. The media world hasn't changed all that much. Bloggers, just like their reporter counterparts, don't react well to PR firm-orchestrated campaigns that lack substance.