Edelman, Karma’s Not Just For Earl Anymore

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Fortunately, for all things pure and noble, this new free marketplace of ideas works as a circle – what goes around comes around eventually. Wal-Mart and Edelman, meet your blogospheric comeuppance, served with a side of cold irony.

Edelman, Wal-Mart’s PR firm, had that music to face this week after it was revealed that Wal-Marting Across America was a PR stunt. Edelman decided it best to announce Thursday that there are a couple of other morally flexible (meaning fake) Wal-Mart blogs out there, once they looked up the definition of “transparency.”

Working Families for Wal-Mart, a praise-singing “grassroots” advocacy group formed in December 2005, and its subsidiary, The Paid Critics blog, a forum for outing the union groups funding prominent anti-Wal-Mart critics, were both established by Edelman employees.

Paid Critics’ main foe appears to be Brian McLaughlin, “an ally of Wal-Mart Watch” and “Wake-Up Wal-Mart,” who incidentally (they really want you to know) fleeced Little Leaguers for $100,000.

That’s a lot of booster money. I was lucky to get $10 in my half-a-milk-carton.

Paid Critics, once anonymous, now names Edelman employees Miranda Gill, Brian McNeill and Kate Marshall, whose clients include Working Families For Walmart.

In case your irony sniffer isn’t working right. PR flacks are being paid to criticize those that are paid to criticize their clients at a blog called PaidCritics.com. That’s irony so pure it rivals Ivory Soap.

It was very clear last summer that the anonymous ease with which a blog could be created would lead to crafty ne’er-do-wells pulling the equivalent of a PR sleight of hand.

Blogoriented.com is no more, but when it first arrived on the scene in Summer ’05, the PR world was abuzz with ethical questions about the concept of fraudulent blogs to boost a company’s or a product’s image. Its absence to date is evidence of a few possibilities: it was a prophetic hoax; it was not profitable; or the founders finally decided they couldn’t live with themselves.

Even from the launch, the supposed Chinese-based blog outsourcing self-doubting company founder was quoting the Bible:

For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”Matthew (16:26)

This was the moral speed bump on the road to creating “standard” American blogs for generating product buzz. They even gave examples:

A blog written from the perspective of a stray cat in NYC.
A blog written from a 14 year old depressed Iowa girl.
A blog about life as a math professor in a southern community college.
A blog about being a plus sized model in Kentucky.
A blog about being a weatherman in California.

And so the seed was planted as the less morally-restricted (or morally flexible, if you prefer) in the PR and marketing world began wringing their hands in anticipation. This is brilliant. The best medium ever created.

But what old media failed to teach them, and what they didn’t quite have a handle on when they started, was that transparency in this new media world is the only protective cup there is.

Transparency is no longer an option, as when the blogosphere you’ve tried so hard to impress and connect with discovers there really is just a man behind the curtain (and they will, too), that image you’ve looked to promote is shattered right along with that porcelain faade.


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Edelman, Karma’s Not Just For Earl Anymore
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