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Richard Edelman Speaks At Syndicate

David A. Utter
Staff Writer
Published: 2006-05-16

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Though bloggers may know him best as "Steve Rubel's boss," the president and CEO of the world's largest independent PR firm carries an impressive reputation, which was in full force during his remarks at the Syndicate Conference.

Richard Edelman participated in a question and answer session at Syndicate today, with our publisher Rich Ord and editor Mike McDonald in attendance.

But it would be wrong to jump directly into the details without a bit of context first. Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble has been slated to serve as the interviewer for the session with Edelman, but Robert could not attend the conference.

Last week, Robert's mother suffered a catastrophic stroke. He has blogged that she is doing as well as she can be right now. Edelman and the attendees took a moment to think of her and Robert; WebProNews is doing the same, and we encourage our readers to do so as well.

Edelman addressed a number of topics, and mentioned a couple of high-powered brand names in doing so. Not long ago, Edelman found itself caught up in a kerfuffle concerning bloggers writing positively about Wal-Mart. He stated that his firm did not pay bloggers to do so.

Bloggers did not attribute the source of the information the firm delivered to them, creating the impression they had 'planted' good feelings at Edelman's behest.

"Jeff (Jarvis) and I were on CNN about paying bloggers. Let me say this... we follow the blogosphere to monitor discussion about our clients and do participate in the discussion. Specifically, with our client Wal-Mart we contacted someone blogging positively about Wal-Mart and this was reported by the New York Times as interfering with the blogger."

General Motors experienced some self-inflicted pain with its Chevy Apprentice contest. Users could visit a special website and craft a commercial about the Chevy Tahoe. A number of anti-SUV people did visit and create negative commercials, many of which took on a viral property and quickly circulated the Internet.

Edelman credited GM with how it handled the situation. "Tell your side and move on ... otherwise you just give it more legs," he said.

Public relations must move with the times, as Edelman stated at length:

"We are getting rid of the message triangle... Top down is baloney in this world. We are constructing a new world where we are promoting decentralized PR."

"The advertising agency world has a huge reservoir of talent to make 30-second commercials. They don't have a revenue model for this new world. Younger agency people however are getting it. I think the ad guys are terrified of this model. It is ruining their revenue model."

The venerable press release, vehicle of millions of corporate communications, still has a future. But it may have to change to be of greater value to those that issue them, said Edelman:

"We should put up the facts, the quotes and the particulars plus be smart enough to include video and let the bloggers and others take it from there. Provide press releases in blog format with tags may be better."

"Those of us in PR have to recognize that things often move from blogs to CNN. You don't have to always initially pitch big media."

Edelman also noted that they are working with Technorati to provide real-time information in seven languages; further details about this have not been released.

Edelman said he is one of the few PR people who blogs regularly. "That is appalling," he said. "I started blogging because I can't be an evangelist for the new PR without blogging myself. You can only instruct what you have done."

And if the boss is going to blog, so are the staffers, he said:

"I bought 250 copies of Robert Scoble's book in an effort to retrain our firm. We have 30 people blogging in our company right now ... that is pathetic ... not enough. I have to be tougher about it with my colleagues."

Edelman had thoughts on plenty of topics. Here are three more.

On Metrics.
"There is not a metrics model yet that we are comfortable with related to PR and blogs. We don't have sufficient data yet, but it is something we would like."

Are blogs making PR smarter?
"I think that PR people who are interacting with the blogosphere are getting lambasted for sending press releases or info to bloggers. I hope that PR firms are in the early stages of interacting with blogs."

Should executives blog?
"I think executives can have an interesting voice. The idea that it has to be the CEO is wrong ... it should be someone from the executive suite. Employees can be a powerful PR voice."

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About the Author:
David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

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