All About Content

PR Firms Leverage (Co-opt?) Blogs

Posted by Melanie Phung on Sunday, March 12, 2006 at 9:02 pm

Wal-Mart has been outted as cozying up to bloggers. Actually, the article is very PR-firm-friendly, saying basically that if the line between PR firms and bloggers is blurred it’s because the bloggers are failing to properly reveal their sources. It could have turned into a mini-scandal, but both sides appear to have come out of it relatively unscathed. (Jeremy Zawodny’s rant notwithstanding.)

The PR firm behind Wal-Mart’s blog outreach is Edelmann, coincidentally the firm Steve Rubel just joined.

Rubel runs, one of the most popular blogs on the Web, which looks at how online trends are influencing marketing and public relations. (Full disclosure: several months ago I asked Rubel if he’d do an interview for this blog, but he declined.)

Steve Rubel participated in an online chat at the Washington Post to discuss Blog Buzz Helps Companies Catch Trends in the Making, a Washington Post article that was published before the Wal-Mart story ran in the New York Times.

During his chat, Rubel answered some of my questions… sort of. To my question “when do you face bad buzz head on?” he answered “before it’s too late, but not too early.” Insightful.

When I asked if there was anything he would have done differently, and what the plan is now that they’ve been “outted,” Rubel says, “We will continue to build relationships with bloggers and strive to make them as transparent as possible.”

Increasingly, PR firms take the same approach toward bloggers as they do journalists in traditional media. The expectation is that the same standards (of journalistic integrity) apply, but I don’t think we’re quite there yet. I think public relations firms that pursue an aggressive blog outreach strategy are going to have to take some responsibility for making sure their bloggers aren’t just shilling. Otherwise it will reflect poorly on everyone involved and undermine the influence of citizen journalism.

Added March 21: The Economist ran an article February 9 about how corporations can use negative blog chatter to their advantage, The Blog in the Corporate Machine.

Comments (2)

Category: search marketing


Comment by Steve Rubel

Made Sunday, 12 of March , 2006 at 10:55 pm

Thank you for your analysis.

To expand on this, facing bad buzz is different in every situation. There’s no single right or wrong way. It’s when the acceleration starts; when the bloggers are starting to rally behind a cause.

The one thing I would have done differently in the Wal-Mart situation is stress to the bloggers that they should cite their sources. Although I wasn’t involved I can tell you the team behind this effort is top notch and we aim to be fully transparent.

Comment by Melanie Phung

Made Monday, 13 of March , 2006 at 3:17 pm

Thanks for the reply, Steve. Congrats on your new position.

And thanks also for the opportunity to clarify something that upon rereading I realize isn’t clear:

I was in no way impugning the blog outreach strategy. I think it’s perfectly legitimate. And it appears to me that Edelmann had no intention of being non-transparent.

I was merely trying to make clear to those PR professionals who may not be familiar with blog outreach that they need to be careful. Not only about the need to stay completely above board on their end, but also about making any assumptions about the relative media savvy of the bloggers they’re talking to.

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