Category Archives: Edelman

The Trust Barometer–Must reading from Edelman

I have come to trust and look forward to Edelman’s Trust Barometer report. This year’s report shows some surprising changes and is well worth the read.

Edelman is incredibly smart to focus on trust and to position their firm around this issue. I have thought long and hard about this issue and come more firmly to the position that trust is the ultimate goal of most communication. Sure, we may send messages to inform, persuade, sell, get votes, warn, save lives, build reputation, etc., etc.,  but ultimately aren’t all those things about trust?

The topic I address most frequently in my public presentations is the erosion of trust and the reasons for that. Any frequent reader of this blog will know that I believe the media’s increasingly intensive drive to build and keep audiences in a hyper competitive atmosphere causes them to focus on what scares people, titillates them, and panders to their prejudices. And that approach to information distribution–while effective temporarily at building audiences–results in a loss of trust. Not just for the companies, celebrities, and reputations that get trashed in the process, but for the media themselves. This trust report shows the continuing loss of trust among media and entertainment. They are at the very bottom of the list of industries trusted right along side the oil companies.

One feature of the Edelman Barometer is its global focus. Comparing the trust in institutions between respondents in China, Europe and around the world vs. the US in interesting and informative.

The conclusion about who is the most credible spokesperson should give all communicators food for thought. In a world where you essentially trust no one, who can you trust? The answer essentially is “myself.” And the closest person to myself is someone just like me. The most believable person today is certainly not the CEO of a company, or the professional spokesperson, but the person in the company most like the audience or one they can most closely relate to as a peer. That gem alone I suspect will drive the thinking and communication efforts of many in the coming months and years.

The decline of television is also intriguing–related I’m certain the phenomenon of infotainment discussed above. Perhaps stunning to some is the significant rise of trust in the internet. I still hear all the time about “nobody can believe anything if it is on the internet.” Well, it may be true, but people aren’t buying it and communicators better start paying more attention to what is said–even by those ridiculous angry bloggers.

Edelman’s Vice Chairman Michael Deaver summarized the significance of this report with this statement: “Trust is the key objective for global companies today because it underpins corporate reputation and gives them license to operate,” said Michael Deaver, Vice Chairman, Edelman. “To build trust, companies need to localize communications, be transparent, and engage multiple stakeholders continuously as advocates across a broad array of communications channels.”

Think about this as you plan your crisis communication and reputation enhancement strategies this year:

1) Make building trust your ultimate objective.

2) Determine how you will measure it and use it as a benchmark in your progress.

3) Localize your communications–ultimately trust is about people dealing with people and that is local. Everything starts with relationship building–trust can’t happen across the ether and with a void of relationships.

4)  Be transparent. There is no substitute and no trust without it–and it amazes me to see how smart leaders and great organizations are still struggling with that simple concept.

5) Engage multiple stakeholders continuously. Trust is built one by one by one. But it has to be happening on a very broad scale all the time. Think about this when trust is really on the line when your organization has done something really wrong and hurt a lot of people, messed up the environment, impacted health, damaged people’s hopes. That’s when these principles really need to come into play.

6) Across a broad array of channels. We’ve talked here before about this being the day of multiple modes of communication. Fragmentation, segmentation, shifting technologies–it changes so fast your head spins. But the solution is not that difficult–multiple channels focused on relationship building with trust as the measurable end.

Now then, your 2008 work is cut out for you.

Microsoft's review laptop fiasco

Seems the marketing and PR world just keeps stumbling on itself on how to deal with bloggers. I see all these PR seminars on how to “pitch” bloggers like you pitch MSM reporters. Well, bloggers aren’t like most MSM where the rules of what is right, above board and ethical have been pretty well worked out.

Apparently, Microsoft and AMD sent a bunch of laptops to bloggers for them to review. Their PR agency is Edelman and Edelman is positioning itself at the forefront of online PR strategies–at some pretty high cost I would say. Robert Scoble weighed in and said this was great as long as the bloggers divulged they got a free laptop out of the review. Joelonsoftware vigorously disagreed. He may be right.

Apparently Microsoft and AMD got some feedback that by doing so they were clumsily trying to influence how those products are reviewed (let’s see, sending products for review to publications has been a pretty well established practice I believe). But they forgot how self-righteous, ethically pure, and petulant many of the bloggers can be. So when Microsoft decided they had made a mistake by offering such a bennie to the bloggers they tried to backtrack and suggest that the bloggers shouldn’t keep the laptops after all. Now they are finding out just how petty and angry some of these bloggers can be. Here’s a dandy.

A lesson to be learned by all those PR types trying to figure out how to deal with bloggers. My suggestion: use kid gloves. They can be a touchy bunch. And a word to Edelman–pioneers have to take a few arrows.

It's Hot in LA, and at WOMMA

Greetings from LA. Sitting by the pool after enjoying a day of 90 degrees plus heat. Great when I know we are having heavy rains and wind with flooding back home in Western Washington.

Continuing to follow the Edelman/Wal-mart/WOMMA issues. WOMMA (Word of Mouth Marketing Association) apparently is considering kicking Edelman out of the organization for rules violations relating to the Wal-Mart blog they sponsored.  Personally, I think the point has been made and too many people are enjoying watching a leader in online PR squirm. As I mentioned before, my guess is that this was a case of some eager beaver in the agency not thinking and not a matter of intentional or even careless violation by agency leadership. But that is simply my uninformed opinion. If I am right, the real lesson to agency leaders who may be involved in blogging, corporate blogging, blogwars, etc., is that they better be darn careful about what everyone one of their folks are doing. Everything is known or can be known, and right down the interns, if it is done on their computers or under their name in any way, an agency could face what Edelman is facing. That being said, enough with the flogging (and I mean that both ways).

At the same time, WOMMA seems to be in a great position to get some key messages across to marketers around the nation about what is right and what is wrong on the internet. They have published draft rules for marketers and I encourage all crisisblogger readers to review them and comment while they are still draft.

I haven’t reviewed in detail but from what I have seen, I think they are all sensible. Here is my great worry. Those who use the internet for expressions of personal anger and to wage campaigns of destruction against people, organizations and brands will not normally play by the rules of ethics. How do you go to war against those who play by a completely different set of rules? The activists I have run into in the “blogwars” I have been involved with are of the “true believer” mentality. Fundamentalists, some like to call these kind of people. They are so convinced of the truth, justice and moral rectitude of their cause, that any violation of ethical standards is justified in their minds. Of course, this kind of moral certainty also leads to violence, but I am only talking here about the virulent and not violent attacks on companies, organizations and political figures. Until we as a blogosphere decide that we will not tolerate this kind of behavior, we put those who wish to play by the rules at a serious disadvantage. Please don’t misunderstand me. It is a disadvantage worth accepting because moral right and wrong matters and ethics matters. But let’s not be naive about those who refuse to play by the rules. And let’s not pretend that such refusal does not constitute a huge advantage in the battle for public and customer opinion.

Wal-Mart "Reputation Crisis" reported in BusinessWeek

Business Week Headline

Is Wal-Mart in a reputation crisis? I think so, and I expressed that opinion to a reporter working on a story for BusinessWeek. I guess I didn’t expect my judgment about that to appear in the title of the cover story of BusinessWeek online as it is right now. Read the article.

How did I get the opportunity to comment on Wal-Mart’s situation, given how many smart people in crisis and reputation management are either working on this or thinking about it? This blog. I commented on Edelman’s problems relating to the “flog” site “Wal-Marting Across America” and the BusinessWeek reporter, Pallavi Gogoi, who broke the story of Edelman’s sponsorship saw my comments and gave me a call.

I’ve blogged before about the connection between MSM (mainstream media) and the blog world and if this isn’t clear evidence of that connection I don’t know what is.

Of course, you are always a little nervous when a reporter from a publication like BusinessWeek gives you a call. But I was quoted accurately, thank you Ms Gogoi. It’s the gems that got cut you always grieve. Like the fact that what makes this a reputation crisis of significant proportions is that the public license to operate is very much at risk. Wal-Mart’s ability to enter new markets is very much at risk and whenever you have become a political football or pawn, with one party lining up against you and the other one either for you or remaining meekly silent, you have big problems. No company wants its brand to become so politicized, to become a symbol for what a segment of the public most hates about this country. And that is exactly what is happening.

We also discussed union involvement. Is organized labor behind the effort to damage or destroy the Wal-Mart brand? If so, how are they doing it? The connection between organized labor and the increasing opposition from the Democratic party is logical. How much does this play into Wal-Mart’s current distress.

Crisisblogger readers, please weigh in. I’d love to know what you think about Wal-Mart’s problems, potential solutions, and the reporting it is currently receiving.

Edelman's blogging woes

Business Week is carrying a big story about the Edelman/Wal-Mart blogging situation posted October 17.

Comments on this blog vary considerably about how Edelman is handling it but it is pretty clear that Edelman (whom I respect very much) is in some serious doodoo over this issue. Has Richard Edelman apologized enough and appropriately? Clearly, the irony of helping right the rules which were most severely violated by his own organization is a difficult situation to deal with.

I agree more with James Bruni here who believes Mr. Edelman has apologized appropriately. The only thing I would say is that some additional explanation as to how this happened would be helpful. Did Mr Edelman himself approve the funding of the blog? If so, did he understand exactly the intention and purpose? Did a lower level person approve it? This is a big firm with a lot of things happening. I suspect some decisions were made at lower levels that have come back to bite them and anything that the Chairman would do to explain it would look like buck passing. That is laudable but I think a common mistake in dealing with these crisis events is not to be more forthcoming with the details. People who are interested want to know. Inquiring minds, you know. That’s why the explanation of the Wal-marting blog was helpful and useful–and authentic.

Wal-Mart, Edelman and WOMMA's Code of Ethics

I’m just beginning to learn about this situation myself, but for bloggers and for those dealing with blogwars, this is of great interest. Here is Constantin Basturea’s posts and resources about this issue. The final post from the “fake” blog Wal-Marting Across America is here and it is important to read because it gives an explanation from the bloggers view as to how the whole situation started. In short, a couple decided to travel across America staying in an RV in Wal-Mart parking lots. A brother of one of the couple works for the Edelman PR firm who represents Wal-Mart, and Edelman ended up sponsoring the trip with money for gas, food, etc. While the name of the Edelman campaign was listed on the blog the couple wrote, there was no disclosure within the blog itself of the financial arrangement between the couple and Edelman. This violates the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s Code of Ethics.

In the meantime there is another storm brewing on the topic of blogwars. And that is the pending ruling by wikipedia founder Jimmy “Jimbo” Wales regarding whether contributors who are paid by a subject company or organization will be allowed to contribute to wikipedia.

Both of these controversies have profound implications for the culture of the internet as well as the ability of organizations to respond to reputation-damaging online attacks. The value of “free” is very strong among the people who are now setting the rules for the internet and are keepers of the internet cultural values. Free as in open source software, free as in free exchange of ideas, free as in aggressively non-profit. Conversely, there seems to be the idea that money of any and all kinds, and particularly the exchange of it, corrupts. Corrupts ideas, people, interactions, etc. There is much truth in this. But there is also much danger in this new dogma, for that is what it is. Dogma of almost all kinds pushed to its extremes is the basis of fundamentalism and I see a fundamentalist strand emerging in these discussions about what is right and true and should be allowed on the internet and in blogs and in wikipedia.

No doubt some contributors to blogs and wikipedia whose opinions are determined by the dollars they received from paymasters are “corrupted” in the sense that their allegiance to those dollars is greater than their allegiance to truth and authenticity. But the very same accusation can be laid against those who subscribe to a strong political position, or who have motives of their own to attack and destroy others. There is no inherent rightness in those who do not receive pay as there is no inherent wrongness in those who do.

I think it is time to get past this discussion. The blogworld and internet content sites should be open to any and all. I thought that was an underlying credo of the internet. Whether someone is paid or not paid says nothing about their basic honesty, integrity or truth of what they are saying. One need not be any more skeptical of the money motive than they ought to be of political motives or personal vendettas. For the sake of real transparency, the motives of all writers ought to be demanded. Are you intent on seeing our president’s reputation dashed (further)? Then declare it. Are you motivated by a past wrong that a company or person has inflicted on you and now you are using the internet to take your revenge? Then disclose it. Are you taking money from someone who has something to gain by what you are saying? Then disclose it.

Those who demand full disclosure for money but not for other equally powerful motives are displaying not the purity of protecting the value of “freeness” on the internet, but rather are beginning to display a fundamentalist tendency toward selective evils. Let’s protect the true sense of freeness on the internet and allow the free exchange of ideas without demanding motive disclosures. Let’s evaluate what people say rather than making assumptions about motives and how it affects the truth or validity of what they say.

Dell Flack Attack

Attn Corporate Bloggers. Here’s a good example of what not to do. Apparently Dell’s PR firm assigned one of their staffers to review blogs for negative comments about Dell. OK, standard procedure. But the guy commented on a well known blog in terms that, well don’t even meet the “angry blogger” standard of decency. Let alone, appropriate in defending his client.


Here’s what the anonymous “PR” guy wrote on Jeff Jarvis’ blog:

Hey Jarvis. I honestly think you have no life. Honestly? Do you have a life, or do just spend it trying to make Dell miserable. I’ve been working with Dell the past three weeks researching trashy blogs that worms like you leave all over that frigen blogosphere and I cant honestly say that Dell is trying to take a step towards fixing their customer service. They hire guys like me to go on the web and look through the blogs of guys like you in hopes that we can find out your problem and fix it. But honestly I dont think you have a problem Dell can fix. Your problem is you have no life.

Interesting that Richard Edelman, head of the largest independent PR firm and a competitor of the firm in question decided to raise this issue on his blog.  Well, I guess it is OK for a competitor to help point out a serious mistake on the part of a competitor. At least Edelman was gracious enough to point out that the culprit was likely a summer intern.

The point here is that there is no such thing as anonymity on the web–and the sooner anonymity as a presumed option goes away the better as far as I am concerned. So warn everyone who presumes to be speaking in your defense to not be so stupid. And to conduct themselves as they would as if everything was in the light of day. As it should be. And as apparently it is.