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.