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Wal-Mart, Edelman Flogged For Blog

David A. Utter
Staff Writer
Published: 2006-10-16

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A travel blog featuring a couple traveling the country by RV and camping in Wal-Mart parking lots turned out to be a fake, its pro-Wal-Mart message backed by the Edelman PR firm.

BusinessWeek pulled the covers off the Wal-Marting Across America blog, revealing its backing by an Edelman-financed organization called Working Families for Wal-Mart. The demise of the fake blog, being called a "flog" by MediaPost in its description of the site, promptly had its doors blown off by commentary from throughout the blogosphere.

Posts from numerous bloggers have been appearing online. Edelman has come in for the kind of publicity that client hire the agency to avoid.

"Edelman naturally fell back on the approach that has worked for decades - control the conversation by manufacturing it," wrote Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0.

The fake blog launched September 27th. Anything that is positive for Wal-Mart appearing online gets subjected to heavy scrutiny immediately, and the blog did not withstand the laser-like focus for long. Wal-MartWatch noted the contributors were Jim Thresher, a Washington Post photographer, and his longtime partner Laura St. Claire, whose brother is an Edelman employee.

The bloggers for the now-exposed site blasted those who revealed their identities in the final post on the site:

Thanks to an organized Wal-Mart opposition group, the whole world now knows who Jim and I are, where we live, what our home life is like and where we work. We didn't disclose all that stuff in the beginning, of course, for a couple of reasons. We kept our last names and personal lives out of it because of concerns about our privacy.

We had heard that Wal-Mart's critics could be vicious in their attacks. Now we know those concerns were valid.

So now we're being attacked. Why? Because we dared to write positive things about Wal-Mart. The people who hate Wal-Mart couldn't argue with anything we said - we were writing about real people and telling true stories.

Edelman's side of the story has not been told yet. Blogger Shel Holtz sought something from Edelman's bloggers, who include the highly-regarded Steve Rubel in their number:

Those smart PR folks working for Edelman are among the members of the PR community who advocate participation in the conversation. Some of them have been brutal when, to their way of thinking, somebody else fails to understand what it means to be engage in the conversation.

So where is Edelman in this particular conversation? Missing in action. As dismaying as this latest misstep is, it's even more dismaying to see Edelman's high-powered social media experts failing to walk the talk. Nothing from Richard in his vaunted 6 a.m. blog. Nothing from Steve, who blogs at the pinnacle of PR's A-list. Nothing from anybody (based on a Technorati search and a survey of the Edelman blogs).

The idea that Thresher and St. Claire did not consider the potential for such scrutiny and criticism just seems too odd to attribute to naivete. A report at Editor & Publisher noted that while Thresher received approval for the trip from his boss, there was a "miscommunication" as to the true nature of the trip.

[Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr.] did not believe Thresher had sought to mislead the photo chief. "The photo editor did not fully understand what Jim was going to do, but gave permission," Downie said. "He did not understand what was being asked."

Thresher will have to repay his share of the travel expenses received from the Edelman-backed group, and his job could be in jeopardy for violating the Post's guidelines on freelance work. Maybe he can apply for work at Edelman if that happens.

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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

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