Gini Dietrich

Edelman Admits They Don’t Know Social Media

By: Gini Dietrich | October 28, 2009 | 
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It’s been a while since something in the news has gotten me fired up, but it happened this week. I saw the headline “Younger employees help senior executives unlock social media mystery” and clicked on the story to learn more. I expected it to be another story about using Gen Y to set up social networking, set strategy, and execute.

Imagine my surprise, then, when it started off by talking about the executives at Edelman (THE LARGEST INDEPENDENT PR FIRM IN THE WORLD) working with younger employees to understand social media. They have what they call their “Rotnem” program( which is mentor spelled backwards – in case you missed that) where 95 percent of their senior executives are mentored by Gen Y.

At first blush, it’s not a bad idea. I like that the Baby Boomer generation has decided this is not a fad and they’d better learn more about it.

What I do have a problem with is THE LARGEST INDEPENDENT PR FIRM IN THE WORLD just announced in the Chicago Tribune that the people who are supposed to be setting social media strategy in conjunction with communication strategy for their clients HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THEY’RE DOING!

If you haven’t read the article, you should. It’s linked above. I met Janet Cabot a few weeks ago. She’s smart. She has a big job. She’s experienced. She knows what she’s doing. And this article makes her look like an out-of-touch bufoon. I mean, come on! Her social media experience is on delish.com?? Don’t even get me started on Kathy Kregner being “so cute” with her 500 Facebook friends.

Maybe I’m a fool to think a piece of social media belongs in the communication department and with PR firms. This article certainly set back our industry a good number of years. The scary thing, though, is Edelman will still do social media for clients. They just clearly won’t have experienced communication strategy attached because 95 percent of their leaders don’t know how to use the tools or how building better relationships online can affect business growth.

Baby Boomers. Gen Xers. Senior leadership. CEOs. Entrepreneurs. Business owners. Anyone in the c-suite. And general counsel. Listen up. Social media is changing the way you relate to your customers, to your employees, to your stakeholders, to your prospects, and to your potential talent. This is not a “cute” or “fun” thing to do. It is how we all will communicate and receive our information into 2010 and beyond. It’s changing customer service, HR, sales, communication, marketing, and advertising.

Learn how the tools can help you do just that or be left wondering how your competition beat you up and stole away all of your customers without so much as an ad campaign.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

  • That article makes them sound completely ridiculous. Hopefully, this is just how the reporter makes them sound, taking quotes out of context… hopefully.

    This is why boutique agencies often do a better job with social media. Their teams are in constant communication, learning from each other, constantly concocting new strategies. I also get the feeling that some of the bigger firms resisted social media, hoping it would go away, while smaller firms embraced it, knowing it would set them apart. Now a lot of PR pros at smaller agencies are very adept in this department.

  • Did you say something about THE LARGEST INDEPENDENT PR FIRM IN THE WORLD ADMITTING THEY DON’T KNOW SOCIAL MEDIA?

    Thanks for bringing that up.

    Listen, I’ll be the first to admit that having all the answers is a sure sign of being kicked out of the room. And, with the ever-changing landscape of Social Media Marketing, saying “I haven’t used ping.fm” or “I don’t get Posterous” is fine. (I’ve said both things publicly.)

    But this admission of guilt is a BAD PR MOVE. FOR THE BIGGEST INDEPENDENT PR FIRM IN THE WORLD.

    Positioning – what makes you great? What makes your firm the one I want to work with?

    I would venture to say that they don’t get it.

  • I have to read the article to see how bad it looks for them. As someone on the receiving end of a lot of blogger pitches and initiatives, I’d say that Edelman knows a hell of a lot more about social media (at least when it comes to working with mom bloggers) that most other PR firms.

  • Molli

    I do love the idea of Gen Y being mentors to the senior executives, but that should have probably taken place a year or two ago. I do remember reading their report on the Obama social media campaign, which I found here; http://bit.ly/UMNoS and is really interesting. Their digital team is really smart at what they do, but you’re right, when doing communication, all departments should be working together.

    It could be worse, at least the digital team isn’t teaching their own executives in the digital department.

    I would like to hear what they have to say about the way this article turned out.

  • Arment Dietrich

    Kim – It’s less that they don’t know social media and more that their leaders, the ones who are supposed to be setting the strategy, don’t know social media. I know a few people over there, at mid-levels, who are really smart social media strategists. But this article makes it look like they don’t have buy-in from the top levels and, if I were a client, I’d wonder who’s watching the shop. The 20-somethings?

    Dave – It’s a terrible PR move. I’m still astounded this was even published. They are, after all, communication pros. It’s hard for me to believe they overlooked the fact that their clients could read this and think, “Who’s setting my strategy?”

    Esther – I think it’s hard to take out of context or misquote this.

  • Oops – that last comment was from me. I forgot to log out of the blog.

  • Teri Gidwitz

    The adoption of social media exposes just how silo’ed most organizations are, and how businesses approach the job of doing business. A savvy organization will use social media in too many areas to belong in a single silo, be it communications/PR, advertising/sales, customer service, etc. A savvy organization will recognize all the various applications where social media is a fabulous tool, and will set up its staff so that those charged with managing & responding to social media are capable of engaging across the organization as needed. The way we do business is changing because consumers and customers demand it, and the sooner organizations can evolve to address it, the better off they’ll be.

    I too was surprised by the article. I found it to be steeped in more than a little ageism. It’s not one’s chronological age that will be indicative of someone’s knowledge of social media and other digital tools, but one’s attitudes and interest in being a virtual guinea pig, trying new tools, technologies and websites as they emerge. I know plenty of 50+ managers who have invested their time in learning how to use the new tools, and plenty of people in their mid-20s who reject things like social media out of the gate. I think it’s important that companies, agencies and hiring managers not allow age-driven stereotypes to dominate the way they staff to handle areas that may be technology enabled, and acknowledge that many require a manager’s perspective to handle them well.

  • WOW! I openly laughed out loud at my desk at “cute” parts of the article. There are some many wrong turns throughout this article that has to have Edelman employees polling their hair out. It’s wrong for top executives to sell ideas and campaigns when they are not the true “roots” holding the ideas together and it’s also too bad it takes new trends for Gen Y to get recognized…Thanks for representing our industry so well.

  • Patti Knight

    I agree with Esther – I believe Edelman (like many other companies) hoped social media was just a fad that would go away soon or it is possible they think any publicity from the media is good publicity. I will be interested to see if they comment.

  • I work for Hill & Knowlton. Edelman is a competitor of ours. And quite frankly, they do some great work in the social media space and have some of the PR industry’s top digital/social media thinkers on staff. Guys like Steve Rubel, Phil Gomes and Rick Murray to name a few are seasoned communicators who are leading the firm, the clients and the staff.

    This admission that younger staff are educating the boomer-age senior staff doesn’t surprise me. However, I don’t think it says anywhere in the article that either those being educated or those doing the educating are turning around and counseling clients. I don’t know how Edelman handles social media consulting, but I’d hazard a guess that they employ a best-teams approach.

    I agree that the article may not have portrayed the situation in the best light, but I’m sure Janet Cabot would be happy to tell you all about how social media is integrated into their communications consulting work. I think it’s unfair to make such a strong claim with your headline without digging a little deeper on what Edelman can actually do in this space.

  • It’s a falsehood to think taking a swipe at the big agencies in PR, either in this piece or the original newspaper clip, would help anyone in the space. The first article was an unfortunate hatchet job designed to create an appearance that some solid PR professionals — like Janet Cabot — are only weakly tethered to landmark changes in our profession. The follow on piece only served to echo the first. Both, in my opinion, should have been rethought from the perspective “do I have all the facts?” It’s readily apparant to anyone in the PR space, and the SM arena, that Steve Rubel (http://twitter.com/steverubel and http://www.steverubel.com) is a beacon in tapping into social media, unlocking potential and fueling business.

    The undercurrent of bickering about whether large or boutique agencies are better equipped to drive social media is an old argument dressed up differently. Fact is, with the right expertise, strategy and passion we all can be bold and meaningful for our clients.

    And, though not working at Edelman, I did start my career in their NYC offices and learned just as much from those above me as those next to and junior to me. It’s a system of best practices and knowledge sharing that creates ownable, usable and sellable expertise and insights. Edelman should be commended for pulling back the curtain back to show their commitment to knowledge sharing.

  • David – If you read my comment to Kim you’ll see I 100 percent agree with you. There are a lot of really smart social media strategists at Edelmen…people who are doing the right things for their clients.

    What I have issue with is the senior leaders of the organization (95 percent of them) don’t understand social media or its implication on how it’s changing the way we do business (as Teri so eloquently points out above). I’m actually astounded this article ran because it shines such a poor light on, who I believe to be, really smart leaders.

    If I were an Edelman client not working directly with Rubel, Gomes, Murray, or Blagica Bottigliero, and I read this article, I’d wonder who was running my strategy. I’m a big proponent of learning from the 20 somethings. But asking them to set strategy because they grew up with AOL IM is as ridiculous as it sounds.

  • My thoughts follow the same line as David Jones. The article lead-in certainly didn’t seem flattering for those being written about, but admitting to the fact that senior executives are working with younger employees to better understand this technology doesn’t seem like an admission of guilt or something to be sorry for. They are simply learning the ropes from those who know them.

    Also, expecting everyone at Edelman from top to bottom to understand the breadth of social media seems a bit demanding. Do you also expect everyone to understand how to set up a network infrastructure? What about having a good design sense? All of these skill sets are left in the hands of those most capable. Others have already mentioned that there are competent strategists working at Edelman, they may just not be senior execs.

    I will agree that some of the points in this article were probably to “cutesy” to have been used as a representation of the company, but as long as Edelman is putting their best people on accounts, I don’t see why they should have anything to be worried about by this story.

  • Lindsay Brown

    So what you’re saying is that Edelman has been signing up their clients for something their senior staff knows nothing about?

    Interesting…

  • Linds – that’s not what I’m saying. That’s what the Trib article says. To David’s and Mike’s points, there are some smart Edelman social media folks. But the article says “95% of senior leadership” are using the rotnem program. If those same people are selling social media services to clients then, yes, they’re doing it on theory, not use.

  • Gini – Thank God you wrote this. It’s not only 95% at Edelman, it’s also the majority of senior execs who don’t get social media because they don’t think they need too, and will rely on others. So, the message gets lost until social media is brought into the boardroom and out of from under the “experimental”, let’s try it and see what happens – mindset. I just resigned from an account because the President and CEO did not “get” social media.

  • 95%? Really? I cannot believe a company of the size and stature of Edelman would admit that outloud OR that their executives are collecting recipes on work time. Social media isn’t “cute”, it is a serious business tool. I can’t imagine trying to sell it if I didn’t understand on more than a theoretical basis. Sheesh!

    Go get’em tiger!

  • Mike and David make some good points. Not everyone will know all the tools all the time; it’s important that any agency recognizes that, and takes steps to better train and prepare its staff.

    But I agree with many other comments here that the article does not put SM training or some of the agencies in a positive light. Here’s another take: http://www.davidhenderson.com/2009/10/28/huge-pr-firm-has-bunch-of-kids-as-digital-pr-strategists/

  • I read this article and felt the exact same way. Edelman is essentially ADMITTING to being late to the party. If they’re just now learning about social media tools, how on earth can they (or at least 95% of the firm, per their own admission) be crafting smart STRATEGIES for clients. Because we all know it’s about more than wasting time collecting 500 Facebook friends…

  • (Patrice Tanaka , CRT/tanaka co-chair on social media via Barbara Leflein: http://bit.ly/3s2DRv) Ingraining at our large independent agency taking time, too, but senior leaders lead it. Thanks to Geoff Livingston and others! And, it’s entirely OK for younger people to figure out how to make money at Edelman or anywhere else. We look for and nurture that spirit of business development and working for and trusting one another. I got a postive vibe from the story relating to the evolution of our business.

  • Edelman is not alone.

    I had a recent conversation with a software company that is on the verge of recruiting a social network leader, and is considering a younger, perhaps college-fresh employee.

    I noted that social networking has exploded in the last year, and that a recruiter may be hard-pressed to find someone with more than one year of professional experience. I also noted that social networking is not exclusively used by the the twenty-somethings. The largest demographic among Twitter’s users are 45 and older.

    A perception that exposure to social networking will translate to a capable communicator is misguided, given the nature of social networking. Using social networking to accomplish communication goals is something apart from chatting up favorite desserts and balloon chasing. It helps. It is a start, albeit one with dubious benefit.

    Social media are evolving, too. Twitter is only a few years old and Facebook has not yet reached pubescence. As the companies add on features and pull off others, the media are changing in sometimes not subtle and significant ways.

    Edelman can’t be blamed for accessing all of its resources. Social networking has to be frustrating for those who have become entrenched in bureaucratic culture.

    Social media portend great change. It will be interesting, even entertaining, to see how all of this unfolds. Empowerment? You can almost see the thought cloud over the 64-year-old CEO’s head: “Never!”

  • Good grief! What an admission of guilt that the senior “talent” at Edelman doesn’t have the minimal intellectual curiosity to independently investigate these new communication channels on their own. They sound like the laziest interns just getting started in this business, waiting for the older hands to tell them what to do. While reverse mentoring is fine, there is no excuse for the leaders to wait for the underlings to bring the mountain to them.

  • Oy.

    This feels to me like Edelman execs are trying to fall in line because they know they need to catch up, and, because they don’t get what this is all about, they’re leveraging the “experience” of their Gen Y staffers to do it.

    First, Gen Y IS NOT PREPAPRED TO TEACH THIS STUFF AS IT APPLIES TO BUSINESS. The use of these tools to chat with your friends and look at pictures from last night’s party has little to do with the larger implications of how social media applies to developing brand loyalty, connecting with enthusiasts or building relationships with potential clients. At least, the connections can’t be made between social use and business application without experience. Gen Y, without the business experience and brand knowledge, are as useless when it comes to social media business application, as the execs are. Can you tell I’m a little peeved? And I’m a Gen Y’er!

    Second, and this ties into what I said above, if Edelman’s execs don’t understand how business and communication are changing, how processes and entire organizations are going social via digital channels to connect with PEOPLE, then they shouldn’t be selling the use of these tools to their clients. That’s like a selling a cell phone but having never used one — the tools fit a larger context.

    In the end, social media isn’t about the tools, it’s about the greater picture of communication and connection and how fostering strong communication and greater connection is good (essential?) for future business. That’s not something you learn from kids two years out of college. Have the kids teach you the tools when the bigger picture makes sense, and help the kids see the bigger picture.

  • Quick follow-up note: My peeved-ness is based on what I read in the article. If the Trib falsely portrayed Edelman’s efforts then, hey, I’ll take my beef up with the paper, not the PR firm.

  • I like Bob Reed’s phrase “doesn’t have the minimal intellectual curiosity…” I think that hits it on the head. In public relations, staying current and being well versed in every communication channel available is the foundation of serving clients strategic needs. And one would hope, the further up the chain of command, the deeper the understanding and ability to combine new tools with the tried and true for the best results.

    However, the line that bothered me most,was this one: “For their part, senior executives have to get accustomed to being the learners.

    ‘You feel stupid. And you get to a certain age and you don’t want to feel stupid,’ Cabot said.”

    Well, to quote Mrs. Gump, “Stupid is as stupid does.” Only in allowing ourselves to openly admit what we don’t know, can we begin to learn. That is no cause to feel stupid or inferior. Rather, we should celebrate the fact that we continue to have the capacity, or “curiosity” to embrace new concepts. The teacher/rotnem can be a young colleague, your child or your 82-year-old aunt. The important thing is a willingness to admit that you can’t begin to know it all.

    Now I have to step back and remind myself not to judge Cabot as being artificial and controlling, or Edelman execs as being out of touch, all based on my perception of a single story in the Chicago Tribune! See…I have to learn too…because if I’m not practicing it I shouldn’t preach it!

  • Wow, that’s some pretty crappy spin in that article. I’d be wincing if I worked at Edelman, almost as much as I’d be wincing at the spin on the headline right here.

    I’ve worked with a looot of PR firms. I’ve been pretty outspoken about the ones that suck. I can tell you flat out, that Edelman does not suck.

    Have I worked with every person there? No. But I’ve worked with enough teams on enough projects that I can safely say they are thoroughly invested in social media, and have been for a long time. Their own VP of sm for consumer brands is an established blogger herself: http://adage.com/digital/article?article_id=137313

    It’s too bad that a reporter thought the “kid teaching the old guy” article would be fun to write because there’s a much better story in there.

  • Well, I have to say that while I can’t speak to what that reporter’s experience with Edelman was, I *can* speak to my experience in working with Edelman on numerous occasions — and frankly, when it comes to social media, there is no peer. More than any other PR firm I’ve ever worked with, Edelman GETS IT. They research their social media partners thoroughly, to ensure they match their clients with bloggers and other social media practitioners who have strong influence and reach, and for whom there is a sincere and authentic passion around their clients’ products. They not only understand how social media works, but what the implications are for using it the right way, as well as the wrong way. They never cease to impress me, and I say this having *only* worked with the executive level of their organization.

    I think this is a case of a reporter who wanted to write a sensational story. Regardless, the article definitely is completely contradictory to my experience in working with Edelman on several occasions in the past.

  • I would applaud the effort if only the date stamp was October 2006.

  • I’m a little perplexed by this piece. My organization has done hundreds of social media campaigns now for four years. Edelman was our first customer. Their sr folks knew from the get go where social media and influencer marketing was going. I think it’s brilliant that their sr people are learning the more tactical aspects of it from the digital natives on staff. Even if we old folks get the promise of social media, we don’t necessarily know how to build our Tweetdecks. Kudos to Edelman.

  • Stefania Pomponi Butler

    A sad Tribune article which leads to hyperbolic assumptions about Edelman. Really, from that article you get that the entire organization knows not one single thing about social media? Interesting.

    I’d like to echo the sentiments of the previous commenters. I, too, have worked with (and received pitches) from dozens of PR agencies, big and small. I am continually delighted that an agency as big as Edelman not only “gets” social media, but encourages their employees to “get it,” too. I’ve worked with Edelman on various projects for almost 5 years. The executive that I work with most often is not only a seasoned and respected blogger and avid SM user in her own right, but I know that every person on her team blogs and uses other forms of SM as well. How do I know? Because I see them at every blog and tech and food and parenting conference I go to. They aren’t just there to “work,” but there are sitting in sessions listening, learning, and asking questions as well. When I see that, I see a company that I will make time for even though I am incredibly busy. Their calls get returned. Their emails get answered.

    I get that young people may be more tapped into social media than older people. I also get that older people may have more experience when it comes to marketing, PR, and customer relations. This idea that “all business is personal” and “engaging customers in the conversation” isn’t new. I bet Edelman’s mentoring program, even though it may seem like its about teaching old dogs new tricks is just as much about allowing experienced executives to share their ideas with newbies. Why couldn’t the article have touched on the fact that a 22yo Facebook addict may not know everything there is to know about advertising and PR?

    Shame that an article with such a weak POV led to a post full of wild speculations. My experience with Edelman, happily, is different.

  • Just think, after the FTC rules kick in, we’ll all have to add DISCLAIMER to each post.

    DISCLAIMER – I interviewed at Edelman eons ago. I’m sure all the people are different than the ones I met.

    BTW, this all reminds me of a very wise decision we made back in my professional services PR days. Circa 1999, we had an office leader who contracted with an etiquette firm to do etiquette training for all client-facing executives. The office leader said it would make great PR – let’s get an article in the paper about how smart we are to get this training.

    My boss – a wise, wise, man – decided to script out the headline: “XYZ Consultants Don’t Know Which Fork To Use.” Thus, no article in the paper – even if it WASN’T the case, the PERCEPTION trumped the reality.

  • Talk about destructive spin – this post is full of it. (Take that as you will.)

    Having worked in corporate IT for ten years, defending the ROI of anything computer-related, I heartily applaud Edelman for taking the initiative to make social media education a priority. Likewise, I’m thrilled that Edelman execs have embraced the mentor program so wholeheartedly. Makes me want to work at Edelman!

  • I will raise my hand here and disagree with the fact that the article is a bad spin. And here’s why: My dad, a retired social worker who has had a challenging and quick education into the world of blogging and social media simply by listening to me talk on and on about my own career, called me up to tell me about this program of Edelman’s. He was impressed, not only that this program is in place for execs he identifies with but also because he remembered that I have worked with teams at Edelman.

    He’s heard me talk about how they were one of the only firms cited as doing it right at a BlogHer panel on the lack of inclusion of women of color in social media. He remembered my positive experiences and — I kid you not — said this is one more thing they are doing right.

    I don’t know everyone at Edelman and I have not worked with that 95% of staffers you keep quoting. However, this article spoke to my dad who represents an audience outside of this relatively small circle of people who make social media their profession. I appreciate that. And I like the fact that this retired guy felt a part of a world that has been pretty intimidating to him.

    So maybe this spin isn’t about any of us. Maybe it is about the many, many other readers who would be cheered on to have a younger professional ROTNEM them on navigating Facebook or Delish or Twitter.

    There’s value in that. There’s value in that audience’s read as well.

  • I think it’s fine. It shows a dynamic organization that is willing and able to learn new things – not shut down new ideas. I know so many companies (and people!) that are afraid of social media because they don’t get it. Frankly, I didn’t get social media until a few weeks ago when I decided to just dive in.

    I think it’s important to give people a chance to learn and I would love to work for a company that is so willing to give its junior employees the opportunity to build relationships with senior management.

  • To quote Maggie Kuhn the founder of The Gray Panthers,”Learning and sex until rigor mortis.” I cannot find fault in any company who chooses to utilize an intergenerational approach to train their staff. Old dogs who are willing to learn new tricks should be given a pat on the head, not a kick in the ass.

  • As I approach the age of the answer to life, the universe and everything I applaud Edelman in their quest for continuing education. We require it for doctors, lawyers and educators, I see nothing wrong with PR firms taking the initiative to do it themselves!

  • Wow,obviously Edelman gets social media…and damage control. Look how quickly they rallied the troops here!

    Have any of you been reading Dave Van de Walle’s comments about perception in this thread? That’s what this boils down to–the aftereffects of coverage stem from the perceived facts others carry away from the article. Sometimes, those perceptions have nothing to do with facts rooted in reality. Perhaps one of the takeaways from this will be that other businesses embrace the idea of bridging generational gaps and keeping their fingers on the pulse of current culture trends by turning to internal experts. And hopefully some of Edelman’s senior execs will remember a very old pr adage to go along with all the rotneming going on…that is “if you don’t want it quoted, don’t say it,” followed closely by, “if you don’t want to appear foolish in the media, don’t do foolish things.”

  • I chimed in earlier with comments about my positive experience with Edelman as a mom blogger (thanks for responding, Gini). I left a comment after seeing a link to this post on Twitter. I commented because I felt moved to share that my experiences with Edelman have been positive.
    As someone who is immersed in and keeps tabs on the momosphere, I take issue with Mimi’s comment that Edelman rallied the troops. I mean, they very well may have, but I know many of the women noted above- Devra, Jessica, Stefania– and I can assure you that they/we were saying good things about Edelman long before this post. In fact, here’s a dinosaur of a post from way back in March 2008 that does just that http://tinyurl.com/yzljfxq

    I can’t speak to experiences with all of their execs nor can I address all of their strategies, but when it comes to momblogger relations, Edelman shows up and participates and has earned a good deal of respect in the space. And FWIW, Rick Murray even caught wind of and RSVP’d to my tweet-up http://twtvite.com/ruaw4d (don’t worry, there’s still space available).

  • Seriously, I’m not exaggerating when I say that the program should have been in place in 2006. I was writing articles about social media and user-generated content and how that could be used in the advertising world for Media Week (UK) back in 2004-2006. If the advertising and media planning folks got it back then (or at least knew that they needed to learn), then why didn’t PR?

  • Wow. There are some really good, well thought-out comments here. There is also, to a quote a friend, some piss and vinegar.

    Let me reiterate something. I think it’s fantastic that so many of you are defending the work of Edelman in the social media realm. I love hearing that other PR firms are doing good work. As I said to David in one of the earlier comments, I know there are social media leaders at the agency. My point in this blog post is NOT that they don’t know how to do social media.

    I also love the idea of the rotnem program and of executives not being afraid to admit they don’t know how to do something and are willing to learn, even if it means admitting it to 20-somethings. That is not my point of this blog post.

    My point is that Edelman executives told the Chicago Tribune (and Sun-Times) that 95 percent of their senior leaders, 95 percent, don’t know how to use social media. I did not make up this stat. It’s in the article. My point is that, if I were an Edelman client and I were using them for social media strategy and implementation, this article would make me wonder who is running the shop. Because, if I were an Edelman client, I would not be paying them millions of dollars (in some cases) to have younger employees, who don’t yet have BUSINESS experience, to run my strategy. Yes, there are people there with experience who can, and are, setting strategy. Yes they are implementing well (as evidenced by the bloggers who work with them have commented here). But if I were a client, I’d take a long, hard look at what they were delivering and whether or not I was working with someone with experience.

    Caitlin’s right – if this were 2006, I’d be impressed.

  • Thanks for the post Gini – I watched with great interest the discussion your post on Twitter created out of this and was astonished at the “passion” from both sides of the coin.

    On the one hand not talking about this within the industry means that we condone having organizations position themselves as “experts” in a field where there are no experts – yet this is unbenownst to most of our clients.

    On the other, making it into an “issue” could be detrimental to the industry itself and as one person said “do more damage than any story in the TRIB”. I tend to think that something of this magnitude needs to be highlighted so that people have a better understanding of its impact on not only the industry but the most important component – the clients that we serve and their understanding of Social Media’s role in communicating their key messages to those they wish to hear them.

    I think a healthy debate – regardless of the catalyst – can only make the industry and our client’s understanding of Social Media stronger. Better to be able to talk about the story and its importance with clients than to wish it away – I’ll bet Edelman will have some great discussions with their clients as a result and that in my mind is a good thing. Cheers,

    Andy

  • Gini, I’ve read the article multiple times and cannot find a statistic or any other evidence cited by anyone that claims 95% of Edelman’s senior staff don’t know how to use social media. What I read is, “Some 95 percent of the leadership in the Chicago office have Rotnems.” This means that 95% of senior staff think they can learn something more from employees who have grown up digital, not that they’re clucless about social media. I think it’s a shame that you’ve spun the statistic in a way that isn’t supported by the facts cited in the article or evidence offered anywhere else — particularly on a blog that purports to fight against destructive spin.

  • Shel – That’s definitely not how I read that part of the article, but I see your point. If your theory is correct, then I admit I’m wrong and apologize here for making an incorrect statement. I’m not trying to spin a statistic in my favor – that’s truly how I read the article. Perhaps it’s a perception difference, not a fact difference.

    But I stand by the perception this leaves with clients, and with our industry as we all try to figure out how dying media and social media are changing our jobs…at a pace so rapid we’re all struggling to figure out if our industry has a place at the table in the next five years or if we’re also dying.

  • Gini, you know I love you and what your firm does. You totally, completely get it. But I am having a lot of trouble seeing this as a bad thing. I think these execs are smart to tap into a base of expertise or a mindset that they may not be as proficient in as they need to be. How could they be? The stuff is volcanic. Tools come and go as fast as you can learn them. I think the article spins this to make these senior folks look silly.

    That said, they also have a responsibility to their clients to ensure that their strategic communications goals are met. Simply tapping into a younger generation to learn more does not a marketable solution make. If they cannot show a compelling plan for the use of these tools in that overall communications strategy, they are doing their clients a major disservice and deserve to be left behind while more nimble firms take the business.

  • Gini did the PR industry a service by drawing more attention to this. Obviously, there is need for more training and more discussion. There is somewhat of a void in social networking skills as it exists today. After this well-read blogging, we might also take note that we all could do a better job of informing clients and PR firms where they can find expertise. Perhaps what we need to do is form a Society of Social Networking Communicators. Anyone interested?

  • Interesting: Michael Brito, formerly of Intel, announced he’s joining Edelman Digital. Brito is stellar at what he does — I saw him speak last week and the man knows his stuff.

    I really wish Edelman would pipe up; I’d love to hear where they’re coming from.

    Great discussion here. 🙂 And, I’m definitely more inclined to question the clarity of the Trib’s reporting.

  • Christine

    Ya know, you have to start somewhere. These guys (older CEOs) didn’t have the luxury of growing up with these tools and capabilities, like my generation. I think it’s noble for them to step up and admit that there are still things they don’t know, but they’re not going to let that get in the way of their business. While it may seem like everyone is on the bandwagon right now and everyone knows what they’re doing, a year ago today, that wasn’t the case. We’re all new at this social media world in some way or another and I think everyone needs to take a step back and remember how much they knew about Twitter and Digg and Flickr in October 2008.

  • EJust dropping by. Wasn’t going to comment until I realized – holy crap, that’s Rusty Speidel in the thread. I’ve only seen SGGL like two dozen times.

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  • @Christine Are you serious? October 2008 is only a year ago. Twitter and Flickr and Digg have been around for a lot longer than that. I actually don’t regard myself as an early adopter – I’m usually way behind most of my friends with tech adoption. But the only thing that has changed for me with those three tools is that I have more Twitter followers than I did a year ago.

    Why are people suddenly discovering social media and making out like it’s only just taken off? Just because you* personally were late to the party doesn’t mean it didn’t exist and have real, live people using it before then. Or is every year Year Zero in social media?

    * I mean the proverbial ‘you’, not Christine in particular.

  • I also don’t buy that it’s a generational thing. Some people grow up with particular tools – fine. For other people, regardless of age, it’s part of their JOB to learn about new media as it comes along. I don’t look down on my mother for not using social media tools (though she uses Skype and Facebook) but then again my mother is not a senior executive in a PR company.

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