Gini Dietrich

Edelman Admits They Don’t Know Social Media

By: Gini Dietrich | October 28, 2009 | 
57

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.

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57 Comments on "Edelman Admits They Don’t Know Social Media"

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Esther Steinfeld
6 years 7 months ago

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.

Dave Van de Walle
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
kim/hormone-colored days
6 years 7 months ago

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
Molli
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Arment Dietrich
Arment Dietrich
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Gini Dietrich
6 years 7 months ago

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

Teri Gidwitz
Teri Gidwitz
6 years 7 months ago
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,… Read more »
Thomas
6 years 7 months ago

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
Patti Knight
6 years 7 months ago

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.

David Jones
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
mariancutler
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Gini Dietrich
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Mike Templeton
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Lindsay Brown
Lindsay Brown
6 years 7 months ago

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

Interesting…

Gini Dietrich
6 years 7 months ago

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.

Lisa Buyer
6 years 7 months ago

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.

Sarah Robinson
6 years 7 months ago

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!

Davina K. Brewer
6 years 7 months ago

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/

Laura Scholz
6 years 7 months ago

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…

Michael Whitlow
6 years 7 months ago

(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.

Raymond Alvarez
6 years 7 months ago
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,… Read more »
Bob Reed
6 years 7 months ago

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.

Teresa Basich
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Teresa Basich
6 years 7 months ago

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.

Mimi Meredith
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Liz Gumbinner
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Karen Walrond
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Caitlin
6 years 7 months ago

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

Jory Des Jardins
6 years 7 months ago

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
Stefania Pomponi Butler
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Dave Van de Walle
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Julie Marsh
6 years 7 months ago

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!

Jessica Ashley
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
James ER
6 years 7 months ago

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.

Devra Renner, MSW
6 years 7 months ago

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.

Aviva
6 years 7 months ago

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!

Mimi Meredith
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
kim/hormone-colored days
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Caitlin
6 years 7 months ago

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?

Gini Dietrich
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Andy Donovan
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
MaryAnneNagy (Mary Anne Nagy)
6 years 7 months ago

The Fight Against Destructive Spin » Blog Archive » Edelman Admits … http://tinyurl.com/yljbwqm

Shel Holtz
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Gini Dietrich
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Rusty Speidel
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Raymond Alvarez
6 years 7 months ago

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?

Teresa Basich
6 years 7 months ago

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
Christine
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Mike Krempasky
6 years 7 months ago

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.

trackback
6 years 7 months ago

Forget twentysomethings; Let Carol Brady Teach You…

Pretty please, mainstream media–can you stop perpetuating the myth that the only appropriate guides for “older” people into the scary world of social media are “younger” people? Seriously. It’s getting really, well, old…

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