What I Said

    March 9, 2006

3:40 a.m. is an ungodly time to be answering questions fired at your through and earpiece while staring into the bright lights of a camera. Intrepid communicator that I am, though, I undertook the challenge-with only one cup of coffee in me, no less-when I answered questions this morning on CNBC’s Squawk Box.

The subject: the blogger relations campaign Edelman PR undertook on behalf of its client, Wal-Mart.

A lot of buzz has erupted on the blogosphere around this story since it was reported in the New York Times, so I was delighted to get the call asking me to offer my comments. I arrived at the KPIX studio in Oakland, California at 3 a.m. (per instructions) to find I would be interviewed in the lobby of a building that was, at that hour, utterly deserted and a bit chilly. I sat around chatting with the cameraman until the segment came up. Following is a recap of the questions and answers. It’s not a transcript, but I did TiVo the show, so with luck, in the next day or two, I’ll be able to put the entire segment on the blog.

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. (That would make for long and boring pieces!) I added that Richard Edelman, chairman of Edelman PR, articulated in his own blog the requirements for an ethical blogger relations effort:

  • Be transparent about who you are, whom you work for, and the goal of the PR effort.
  • Ask permission to share information with the bloggers you approach.
  • Disclose any financial arrangements you’ve made with the bloggers who agree to accept your content. (In the Wal-Mart case, there was no compensation at all, despite what some bloggers have suggested.)
  • Deliver 100% accurate, factual information without spin.
  • I pointed out that the Wal-Mart effort met each of these requirements. I also pointed out that the anti-Wal-Mart blogs were undoubtedly getting information from labor unions and other anti-Wal-Mart sources.

    Finally, I was asked in more companies would start blogs in the vein of General Motors and Boeing.

    Absolutely, I said, adding that they don’t have to be authored by senior executives. I cited Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, and Thomas Nelson Publishers as examples of companies that have encouraged their employees to blog. These employee blogs create a touch point for customers and other audiences, the authentic, real voice of a real person with whom they could connect and engage in conversation.

    I also suggested that Wal-Mart might have been well-served to launch their own blogs to initiate the conversation.

    And that was it. In just a couple brief minutes, the interview was over. I was given no opportunity to show the “Blogging for Business” book I co-wrote with Ted Demopoulos (although I brought it in the hopes of doing a bit of my own PR).

    Now I’m sitting at Oakland International Airport waiting for my flight to Portland. I expect to collapse when I get back home around 10 p.m. tonight.

    If you saw the CNBC segment (that would have been about 6:40 a.m. Eastern Standard Time), let me know what you thought.


    Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology which focuses on helping organizations apply online communication capabilities to their strategic organizational communications.

    As a professional communicator, Shel also writes the blog a shel of my former self.