Friday, March 10, 2006

New York Times Wal-Mart/Blogger Story a Bust With Public Relations Professionals

When Michael Barbaro wrote about the fact that the Edelman PR firm had been feeding tips and leads to sympathetic bloggers, he tried to imply that this was somewhat sinister.

But few bloggers agreed with him.

And even other mainstream media outlets (like Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post) didn’t get real exercised about something that amounted to nothing more that taking traditional PR tactics into the blogosphere.

Public Relations people agree with Kurtz. From Shel Holtz writing in WebProNews, describing what he told CNBC:
First, I was asked to explain the approach Edelman and Wal-Mart took.

This was a blogger relations effort. An Edelman representative approached bloggers who might be inclined to support Wal-Mart’s perspective. These bloggers were offered occasional emails containing information about which they might be interested in writing. These emails were sent to the bloggers who agreed.

These bloggers were asked to use the information to write their own posts and not to reproduce them verbatim. However, a couple of the bloggers did run the emails word for word. Since a blog should reflect the author’s voice, not somebody else’s, I pointed out that when quoting somebody, bloggers should disclose the source. (I always do.)

Next, I was asked about bloggers’ independent voice and whether this type of blogger relations effort somehow manipulated or corrupted the blogs in question.

I don’t believe the integrity of these blogs was compromised at all. The bloggers weren’t paid and there were no conditions attached to their agreement to accept the Edelman emails. They could choose to run any, all, or none of the stories. They could offer their own analysis and even disagree if they chose.

The posts these bloggers wrote were not the end of a conversation, but the beginning. Their readers could offer comments and other bloggers could write, positively or negatively, about the posts on their own blogs. In effect, Edelman was helping Wal-Mart initiate a conversation on the blogosphere.

I pointed out that the mainstream media-also independent-routinely uses press releases, interviews, and tips from companies and their PR agencies without disclosing the source of every fact. . . . I also pointed out that the anti-Wal-Mart blogs were undoubtedly getting information from labor unions and other anti-Wal-Mart sources.
Readers can view the video clip on Holtz’ own blog.

The Barbaro story, in other words, was all spin and no beef.


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