NYT: Wal-Mart Enlists Bloggers in P.R. Campaign

7 Mar

Marketers who intend to pitch blogging to their clients as a more authentic and trustworthy means of communication had better work fast before that perception evaporates. Via Slashdot, this New York Times article describes how retail mammoth Wal-Mart and PR firm Edelman persuade friendly bloggers to – I’m sorry, I can’t find a neutral way to say this just now – persuade friendly bloggers to uncritically regurgitate Wal-Mart’s corporate rah-rah on their blogs without revealing that they’re being spoon-fed this information by the company itself.

One blogger defends this practice by pointing out that many journalists don’t reveal their sources for story ideas either. This breaks my heart, because it implies that the proper response to mainstream journalists giving us press releases instead of news is not to pressure them to disclose that they’re doing so, but to imitate them ourselves.

Wal-Mart and Edelman discourage their bloggers from simply cutting and pasting the contents of the e-mails they’re sent, because the duplication of text across multiple blogs would give the game away. I think that they should also require the bloggers who sign up to drink Wal-Mart’s Kool-Aid to state in their posts that Wal-Mart gave them the information that they’re reporting.

Having said that, it’s only fair that I offer my own full disclosure: I don’t like Wal-Mart much, nor do I like shopping in its stores; and I was strongly in favor of the recent legislation that would have required it to provide health care to a greater percentage of its employees in Washington.

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2 Responses to “NYT: Wal-Mart Enlists Bloggers in P.R. Campaign”

  1. Jon March 15, 2006 at 2:12 pm #

    The fact that Wal-Mart is trying to get its comments out via bloggers is nowhere near as shocking as the fact that the bloggers went for it at all.

    It just goes to show how untrained writers given the power of being able to form public opinion is a dangerous thing when allowed to flourish unchecked. No matter how many parallels are drawn, a journalist would never, ever, ever regurgitate that kind of dross.

    For the record, I don’t shop at UK Wal-Mart subsidiary Asda because it’s aimed at chavs. It’s so rough, the trolley park is a 15-foot high tower of twised metal where the chavs have just ‘returned’ them in their own special way.)

    (Wade – dross = garbage; chav = trailer trash type; trolley = shopping cart)

  2. Wade Rockett March 15, 2006 at 3:59 pm #

    nobleizer – I found it shocking that these bloggers even exist. I can’t get my head around the fact that there are people who don’t work for Wal-Mart and yet care so deeply about its public image that they devote this much time and energy to defending it in print. (It’s a discount department store, not Apple for God’s sake.)

    But given that, I can see how they’d be so giddy at the prospect of being “insiders” that they’d just run with whatever tidbits they were given. My feeling is that Edelman should’ve known better. They were hired for their expertise, which ought to include an awareness that this type of manipulation could backfire badly, and poison the well for future PR efforts.

    Richard Edelman’s post on the matter is aggravating because he doesn’t take any responsibility for what the bloggers did with the info his agency provided. Whose campaign is it, anyway?

    Thanks for the glossary! It’ll come in handy when our colleauges from the London office visit next week. I’m sure they’ll be…er…”chuffed” at my facility with English slang. Yeah.

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