Edelman Apologizes For Wal-Mart 'Flog'

The president and chief executive officer of public relations firm Edelman apologized yesterday for the firm's "fail[ure] to be transparent about the identity of two bloggers" who traveled in an RV and chronicled their experiences in "a cross-country tour that Edelman designed for Working Families for Wal-Mart."

Richard Edelman posted the apology in his blog yesterday afternoon, roughly a week after Wal-Mart Watch and BusinessWeek, in separate events, exposed the pair behind "Wal-Marting Across America" as Washington Post photographer Jim Thresher and freelance writer Laura St. Claire.

"I'm sorry we did this," Edelman expanded in an interview Monday afternoon. "I am completely committed to doing better, not only for our firm but also the PR industry. I want your readers to know I take all this very seriously."

Ostensibly a chatty travelogue written by two average Americans who parked their RV nightly in Wal-Mart parking lots and wrote endlessly effusive prose about their experiences with the retailer's employees and customers, the 'flog' (or fake blog) became a marketing communications disaster for both client and agency when it was revealed that the vehicle, meals and all other expenses were paid for by WFWM, an organization launched by Edelman, and that St. Claire's brother worked for the PR agency on the WFWM account.

Critics of Wal-Mart and Edelman ratcheted up criticism of both companies throughout the week--the latter coming under increasing disapproval for positioning itself as one of the most forward-thinking communications companies in the area of blogs, yet not addressing the elephant in the room on any of its executives' numerous blogs.

Yesterday, Edelman said this was not a matter of stonewalling, but waiting until something could be said conclusively. "My policy about things like this is you don't say anything until you have all the facts, and when you do, you say something definitive. We needed to wait until we had all the facts."

Separately, Edelman's highest-profile blogger, Steve Rubel, also addressed the situation, and said he had "no personal role in the project"--and in response to online follow-up queries, wrote: "I have never been to Bentonville, nor have I billed one hour on the account....I wanted to speak out days ago....My opinion is we made a big mistake...."

Both Edelman and Rubel reiterated the firm's support of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association's ethical guidelines to transparency, which Edelman helped write.

Thresher has been reprimanded by the Post for breaking policy by working with special interests, and the newspaper said he will reimburse WFWM roughly $2,200 for expenses. Last week, through the Post, he denied writing any of the flog's entries, although several appear under his name. The Wal-Marting Across America flog has been severely truncated, and now only two farewell entries remain.

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