It all started when the PR agency Edelman Worldwide was hired by Wal-Mart to improve its image.
Edelman started by creating Working Families, a foundation to counter the criticism of union-funded interest groups.
Edelman went on to create a blog – a sort of travelogue following Laura and Jim traveling across the country in an RV.
The couple claimed that they wanted to visit their children, one at college in Pennsylvania and the other in North Carolina, so they came up with the idea to rent an RV and park each night a different Wal-Mart parking lot for free.
During their travel, they reported on the conversations they had with the happy Wal-Mart employees.
Needless to say, all of the postings were long and positive – especially about Wal-Mart.
Bloggers Laura and Jim were later exposed as Laura St. Claire, a freelance writer, and James Thresher, a Washington Post photographer.
(Nice detail: Laura’s brother works for Edelman.Edelman had flown the couple to Las Vegas and got them a mint-green RV emblazoned with the group’s logo on the side, according to Business Week).
The fallout of the fake blog hit the blogosphere like a tidal wave.It also created a new cyberspace word: “flog” a nice wordplay on fake (read: paid-for) blog.Richard Edelman immediately kicked into crisis management gear and started apologizing “mea culpa” style all over cyberspace.Clever, since Edelman is one of the co-authors of the WOMMA (Word of Mouth Marketing Association) code of ethics, which states:
“Honesty of identity: You never obscure your identity.”
The blogosphere is still unregulated territory.
This case shook the PR world – it will force corporate bloggers from now on to apply a code of ethics.Both WOMMA and the PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) refused to take action against Edelman.
Disappointingly, they also ignored this great opportunity to formulate a code of ethics and start some regulation process.
As it looks now, Edelman will come out this escapade untarnished, with more free publicity than anyone of us can dream of…..may be his next step is to put his apology on YouTube as well?