For Wal-Mart, PR = Public Revelations

Wal-Mart & Edelman learn PR must be candid.

PR is often used as a shorthand for Public Relations. Public Relations attempts to manage how an individual or company will appear in the media. If the company has good news then the PR people work to get the media to showcase it. Conversely if the company has some difficult stories to handle, then the PR people try to ensure that as little damage as possible is done to the corporate image. With the traditional media, that was a reasonable objective for the PR group. However now the Internet has changed the rules of the game. Much more transparency is required in company activities since the Internet radar screens are much more active and effective.

This was clearly illustrated by the furore that developed around a PR activity that Edelman and Wal-Mart did. Wal-Mart’s PR counsellors at Edelman created a blog ostensibly authored by a couple traveling across America in their RV and spending nights parked in Wal-Mart parking lots. Edelman wanted to make consumers think that Wal-Mart is a great place to use as the anchor point for a road trip. When it became clear that this was a fake blog, as it quickly did, everyone jumped on Edelman. Blogging heavyweights, such as Shel Holtz, Scott Karp and Robert Scoble, pointed out the manifest deception of such an approach. This was particularly heinous from a company like Edelman that has made much of the benefits of social media efforts. It took a few days for Richard Edelman to fess up and acknowledge what he called an error in failing to be transparent.

Given that the Internet exists, there is need for absolute transparency and sincerity. Not least because the chances of being caught out are very high. Edelman pointed out his support for the Word of Mouth Marketing Association Code of Ethics.

The Word of Mouth Marketing Code of Ethics.
(The “WOMMA Code”)
1. Consumer protection and respect are paramount
2. The Honesty ROI: Honesty of Relationship, Opinion, and Identity
3. We respect the rules of the venue
4. We manage relationships with minors responsibly
5. We promote honest downstream communications
6. We protect privacy and permission

Code of Ethics sounds like something worthwhile that you should strive to honour. That really sets the bar too low. To ensure the best corporate image, you’ve really got to regard that Code of Ethics as an absolute minimum of good corporate behaviour. In that way, you can be reasonably sure that your PR (Public Revelations) will not do damage to your corporate image.

Related: Is The Wal-Mart Blog Coming Soon?
Follow-up: Wal-mart Adopts An Internet Mindset

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