Rather out of the blue a bunch of bloggers are suddenly talking about how Wal-Mart Corporation and its PR agency of record, Edelman, are sharing press releases and other material with selected bloggers. Doubtless the recent addition of uber-blogger Steve Rubel helped with this project (heck, even Richard Edelman blogs about it), but the blogosphere reactions are quite fascinating.
Glenn Reynolds writes about PR and Blogger Ethics and Kevin O’Keefe goes even further, decrying how Walmart Exploits Bloggers in PR Campaign. Dan Riehl even labels this The Blogging For Walmart Scandal and Robert Scoble has a snide comment about hidden agendas, somewhat of the pot calling the kettle black given Microsoft’s history, don’t you think?
Thankfully more level-headed folk like Jeff Jarvis (Does the “P” in PR stand for Press or Public?), Steve Broback (Walmart Courts Bloggers Says Wall Street Journal) and Dan Gillmor (Bloggers and Disclosure) have a more rational perspective.
Me? I couldn’t disagree with these critical bloggers more.
From the use of the word “exploits” (who’s being exploited?) to the assumption that if Edelman / WalMart sends content to bloggers that they’ll just blindly republish it, I think there are a number of people in the blogosphere who just have a completely incorrect view of the situation.
Large companies need methods for disseminating their message out to the general public. If you subscribe to the concepts in Gladwell’s splendid book The Tipping Point (which I highly recommend), you’ll realize that as the venue for discussion evolves, so must the methods through which companies attempt to stay involved and, yes, influence that discussion. So yes, Public Relations agencies can no longer just shoot out the ubiquitous daily non-press release documents, but need to join the blogosphere at the level that makes the most sense.
Due to my running a popular gadget and tech how-to weblog (Ask Dave Taylor) I get lots and lots of press releases every week.
Y’know what? I like it. It helps me keep up with what’s going on in the industry, lets me identify contacts in companies if I need further information and also helps me figure out who is doing PR for which firm. I also get white papers and other content from PR companies, good and bad. Do I publish any of it verbatim? Of course not.
Frankly, the bloggers who would publish content from a PR agency verbatim without specifying its origin, are the same bloggers who would use an “rss feed to blog entries” tool to populate their weblog. And their weblogs are not very good reading and more often than not are just polluting the entire blogosphere anyway.
I think Walmart and Edelman are doing exactly the right thing here. They’ve recognized that the blogosphere exists, that it influences people, and that bloggers are just people who can be added to the communications list.
What’s not to like about that?
Note: as this story evolves, I’m adding new links to bloggers on both sides of the issue. I trust that’s not too confusing, but more voices always equals a better debate, in my opinion.
I was one of the persons who ran into this PR firm. The people that received information from a PR firm were not paid nor did they receive anything other that some links to some stories and at most a sentence or two. Though I received many correspondences, I only created a post about one of them. I do however have many posts about free markets, capitalism, and the such dealing with Wal-mart.
What is missing from this story is the corporate campaign by the unions against Walmart. If they can’t get the Wal-mart employees to unionize they are trying another old strategy of propaganda, regulation accusations, along with the help of the pro-union media (which the NY Times author is a member of). What people fail to realize, is that this doesn’t hurt Wal-mart. It hurts the hundreds of thousand of employees trying to earn money for their families.
From the media angle, there are many towns across the country that only have a weekly newspaper and have no local news. Most of the news that is received is old news and you know how everyone likes that. My blog has been very successful in in not only providing alternative looks at issues, but helping change policy.
Dave, I had no role in this campaign. It pre-dated my arrival.
Dave, I believe that you are absolutely right on this matter. The fact that Walmart is engaging the blogging community shows the importance that blogging in and of itself has become.
Also with the major media outlets not even pretending to give fair sides of a story, this is probably the best way for a company to see that their side is told.
What’s this? You LIKE press releases? I’m stunned, Dave! We should discuss this, I’d really like to understand your perspective on that.
You also wrote: “Frankly, the bloggers who would publish content from a PR agency verbatim without specifying its origin, are the same bloggers who would use an “rss feed to blog entries” tool to populate their weblog. And their weblogs are not very good reading and more often than not are just polluting the entire blogosphere anyway.”
AHEM… I actually do that, to put my linkblog posts on http://rightconversation.com and http://ireporter.org. But I make sure to always include comments that add value. Steve Rubel does it to. And I definitely DON’T publish press releases (or anything else) verbatim. It’s your call whether you think my blogs are worth reading or not, though. Lots of folks seem to like them well enough.
It floors me when I see PR people bragging that their releases sometimes get picked up verbatim. I saw a discussion like that recently. That’s truly shortsighted. Both the journalists and the PR folks complicit in that behavior need a wake-up call, IMHO.
– Amy Gahran
I too don’t see anything wrong with what Edelman and WalMart are doing and I felt the New York Times piece covering the campaign definitely had it in for both WalMart and bloggers.
I think this all misses the point though (and I wrote a bit about it on my blog already.) The point being that what happens next is the actual news.
Does WalMart and the bloggers at Edelman (as opposed to the unpaid, WalMart-friendly ones it is engaging) now engage in true dialogue with their critics in the blogosphere and work to address the reasonable concerns. Meaning, do WalMart and Edelman now use the medium as the two-way, flat-feedback loop it excels at or do they continue to work this campaign as a traditional one-way medium? The answer to that question is worthy of a NYT business front page story because that indicates a significant shift in tactics.
My Walmart sales receipt states today (12/22/06) that I can give my opinion of my Walmart shopping experience at walmartopinion.com. That’s baloney as you should try to find this address to make a comment. Anyway, my comment is that I went there tonight to purchase a Stanley prybar that I need to remove some hardwood trim in an extra bedroom that we’re repainting and putting new carpet in. Try finding this item at
walmart Store #1522. But I’ve made my comment, and tomorrow I’ll go purchase one at the little local hardware store. You bet they’ll have it, maybe even in two (2) different sizes. Thank God for the little independent local hardware stores!!.
you have took the layway out of walmart and if this happens i wont be back to walmart store it is not fair to us poor shoppers that depends on walmarts layway so a lot more people agree with me you should not take are layway dept. we need it.and we will find a store to do layways. thank you sheri bryant from kitts hill ohio store 1426 id 4681535 password 5468
Can’t find survey for the life of me. I shopped store 2815 id# 3605645,Password 4675. They sure won’t be giving out a $500 shopping spree as there is no survey. Talk about fraud. Also they are changing all there store to look like Target, how unique. I think they should hire some new designers. I know change is good but when it takes alot of time and shopping in disaray is not my idea of pleasant. Very disappointed in WAL_MART lately. Also you carry
a product for a few weeeks and then poof it’s gone.
i went to wal-mart today 10-11-06 they gave me a survey.
could not fine the survey any where guess i won,t get a 500.00 wal-mart shopping spree.what a joke
I was at wal-mart shopping and a got a ticket for my opinion and didn’t see where to do it not funny of wal-mart people will stop trying to do this and know it’s a joke.