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Is Edelman Innocent?

Microsoft’s blog fiasco raises plenty of questions. Is it ethical? Was the strategy misfounded? Is this just a natural extension of the traditional product reviews program? I’ve made my views pretty clear on these and more.

One question that shouldn’t be asked is “What was Edelman thinking?”. There is a natural tendency to paint agencies with the same brush as their clients. It’s been argued before that the reputation of an agency and their client are intrinsically linked.

But attaching Edelman to the Microsoft affair assumes several acts took place - first, the client actually took the agency’s counsel as opposed to asking, disagreeing and telling the agency to get executing. Second, that the agency had anything to do with the idea at all (Microsoft actually works with many agencies). Third, that the client is even letting the agency respond to the issue. After a bit of digging, I believe that Edelman is innocent on all counts.

There is another dynamic at play here: The Agency Of One. As much as we like to draw the parallel between bloggers and the media, in some cases a more appropriate parallel would be between bloggers and agencies. Agencies are places for many (many people, many clients). Bloggers take on the dynamic of individual PR agencies – they promote and deposition aggressively, they love to provide counsel – and, like agencies they hate it when they are ignored.

With this in mind, what bloggers shouldn’t do is judge agencies as having they same degree of freedom as they do. “They shouldn’t have told them to do that!” Or, “They should have just come clean and talked about it!” All ok if you are a blogger but much more difficult when you are dealing with one of your largest clients who are pretty much a law unto themselves and directing you on what to do. What an agency might like to do immediately suddenly gets mired down in a clients’ legal and communications bureaucracy. (I’m pretty much certain this is what happened to Edelman when trying to deal with the WalMart affair).

There is no question that the WalMart affair and Edelman’s overall aggressiveness in the blogosphere has painted a pretty big target on their backs. At the end of the day, this is a fine agency doing some of the leading work in social media and participatory communications. Their only mistake of late is not doing more to shine a light on what they have been doing.

  1. They’ve built a worldclass social media practice that is pretty much the envy of the industry. Is that practice being listened to by the rest of Edelman? After the Walmart affair, you betcha.
  2. They are pioneering PR to technology relationships – such as those with Technorati – that I expect to see more of in the next year. I’m surprised more agencies aren’t doing the same. It’s interesting seeing traditional technology business development coming to the world of communications.
  3. They are doing some terrific client work – I’ll leave them to tout that. Axe comes to mind.

Edelman, it would seem, is in a bit of a bind with regard to Perception and Reality. Perception is that they’ve been behind a series of blog blunders. Reality is, not really. In Microsoft’s case, perception is very much reality. Instead of schmoozing the blogerati and handing out fancy notebooks they should get their act together on the beta/trial, really integrate blogging into the launch, and learn to love those early adopters willing to beta and trial their products.

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