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Gini Dietrich

How “No Comment” Has Edelman In Trouble

By: Gini Dietrich | January 25, 2011 | 
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Uh oh. Edelman is in trouble again…this time over a media request from Ragan about Best Buy On. Mark Ragan, who most of you know if you’re in the PR industry, asked one of his reporters to contact Best Buy to interview them about their new On, the new “magazine” they’ve created for customers. Mark, like a lot of us, see the trend of companies becoming publishers and wanted to know more about what Best Buy is doing in order to provide a case study to his readers.

A seemingly simple request that Best Buy (and Edelman) should jump all over because a) it’s an unsolicited request for an interview that will make them look good and b) it provides the opportunity to take a leadership position in content marketing. Mark, according to his words, admits Ragan isn’t the New York Times, but they do have more than a quarter of a million readers. Pretty darn good exposure, if you ask me!

Here is, according to Mark, what transpired earlier in the month:

Wednesday, Jan. 5: Reporter Matt Wilson sends an e-mail to address on Best Buy’s media contact page. He receives an auto reply stating that someone would reply within “one business day.” So far, so good.

Friday, Jan. 7: Matt calls phone number listed on contact page to follow up. No one answers, so he leaves a message on voicemail.

Monday, Jan. 10: The PR agency Edelman responds, but sends information on Best Buy’s new buyback program—not the video network.

Matt responds to clarify that he’s preparing a piece on Best Buy On. The agency responds by sending Matt a link to an Advertising Age story. Matt replies that he’s read the AdAge piece but still would like to interview someone.

Tuesday, Jan 11: Edelman rep tells us in a one-line e-mail, “Unfortunately we do not have anyone to comment on this.”

Come on! And we wonder why the PR industry has such a bad perception? Two steps forward; four steps back, it seems. My guess is this was a junior-level employee who didn’t know the right way to respond and was busy so didn’t take the time to think. But then the employee’s VP, Ryan Richert, had to step in and write an apologetic email to Ragan (which he published and you can find at the end of the story).

Coming from the big agency world and then starting my own company, one of the biggest complaints I often hear from clients and prospects is that people running their accounts on the agency side are too young and too inexperienced.

We have an intern program, but those young professionals don’t have contact with the media and they don’t have contact with clients. They first learn the basics of their jobs and, after three promotions (account coordinator and assistant account executive) to account executive, they begin to interact externally. I believe this is one of our biggest key differentiators, when it comes to competing with the big agencies (and one of the reasons they love to hire someone who has worked for Arment Dietrich). And, everyone here, no matter their level of expertise are taught clients first, then media (which includes bloggers), then everything else.

It’s not that hard. A reporter wants information and comes to you for it, you help them. It’s your job. And, like Ryan says in his apology email, if you can’t provide the information, you explain why, not leave it with “Unfortunately we do not have anyone to comment on this.” Where I come from, “no comment” is not allowed.

Thanks to Shelly Kramer for sending me the original story yesterday morning.

Thanks to Kerou for the image.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

53 comments
RichardMeyer
RichardMeyer

From their obvious insights to hiring an ego centric social media expert I have never been a big fan of Edelman and this is more proof that they can talk a lot more than actually do what they preach.

PabloEdwards
PabloEdwards

When did we become people who are so above others. I agree, help the reporter in some regard.

C_Pappas
C_Pappas

Why do companies list employees on media pages and press releases and then advise them not to speak if anyone calls? This happened to me in a past company. Here I was trying to do everything in my power to get some exposure and internally they were saying 'if anyone calls, dont you dare comment'. It was a very strange situation and I have no idea why we work so hard to get attention but then we pick and choose what type of attention we want. Its all or nothing and if you are going to get picky like this, its going to be nothing next time. If I was Matt Wilson, I wouldn't be calling on Best Buy again. Not a PR pro but that's my POV from the marketing side of the bizz.

Griddy
Griddy

Hi. Umm..nice post.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

There is a french word I can not use here that describes when more than one organization and more than one person together don't have their act together and bumble around like what Bugs Bunny liked to say and I can say here a bunch of Ultra Maroons. Operations is my specialty. Yes and Mobile =P LOL

First off shame on Best Buy. They claimed 24 hours for a press inquiry and there was none. I don't care who the person is that is contacting you for Best Buy to claim they don't have peoplepower resources would ring massive bells of Notre Dame to short their stock immediately. Secondly dear Best Buy this is something you are supposed to be proud of doing....UNLESS...its being forced on you by Edelman where a higher up was sold and the down stream didn't think it was worth the effort and had no Buy In at Best Buy. Obviously not an ISO9001 company like all their Brands and component suppliers to those Brands are!

As for Edelman. This should definitely without a doubt be something they want exposure for. They probably sold it to Best Buy as a way to bill more hours and hopefully if successfully roll out to other clients. This should be a shining star vs that very fallible Trust Barometer. Uhm Edelman start with yourselves before you start analyzing other people and businesses trust! As @Griddy 's Auntie @ginidietrich stated. Someone came soliciting you! Think of how you will be banging your head against the wall to get press exposure and this outlet comes to you?

As for the intern thing. If the intern was put in a situation where they had to handle something using self motivation because they no one was helping, or were blowing this person off, that intern is going to be telling classmates and friends what an inept organization they were at and definitely won't be looking to be hired on after. I give the intern credit for taking initiative to respond even if it was a lame response. I feel bad what do you say in that persons position? Dear Inquirer I work at a crazy jacked up place and they can give a flying thing about you?

Griddy
Griddy

Hey Gin,

This story is rather interesting - but I'm a bit confused as to why a huge company such as Edelman would put a less experienced person on such an account (or any account) or in a position that requires client/media interaction.

But on the other hand - this inexperienced person may have thought that by answering with something could be better than not answering the email at all. That's where your mentor-ship program would have been of great value. So I'm not sure who really deserves the blame here.

I think they have a thing or two to learn about companies such as yours which take the time to properly train their staff before they throw them out there to face other professionals and interact externally.

I have often found that the care and attention that a "smaller" company gives their staff and clients to be more present than with larger ones where you (an employee) can often feel like another "statistic".

Again - I'm not saying that this is true - but I have come across cases as such in the past.

@dannybrow recently wrote a piece about disclaimers for affiliate marketers. And although this doesn't relate - one thing that came to mind from that is: you should share the same principles with the people that you work with or hire (this isn't a quote).

If Best Buy cares enough about their customer service (and I know that they certainly do and in general do a great job of that) then they should make sure that Edelman cares enough as well. The people that represent you often speak for you and in turn may either damage or help improve your image. Those people should represent you the way you would represent yourself.

When someone like Ragan wants to interview you - it could only mean some added exposure for you and your company. They surely deserve the time of day - unless of course - Best Buy was made aware of the initial contact Ragan had made and had asked Edelman to handle it the way they did.

I may be off here - as I'm no expert - but those are my thoughts.

Thanks for this piece Aunt Gini.
Cheers

Whitney Punchak
Whitney Punchak

I have to stand up for this junior PR person. Yes, they definitely made a mistake. But this mistake could have been easily avoided if Edelman had a mentorship scheme or something similar in place. Quite likely this person is only writing, not asked to listen in (let alone participate) in strategy meetings, and is charged with a limited variety of tasks. No wonder they overlooked the opportunity.

TravisMClemens
TravisMClemens

Wow! I can't believe anybody would think that's a proper response. Too often, people are scared of journalists, so they try and avoid them. That only makes the situation worse.

mikecollado
mikecollado

For such an important (and budget-consuming) marketing strategy, it's interesting that companies and their agencies tend to fail on the basic blocking and tackling. Who knows how many chances to influence a discussion or do damage control have been lost because those opportunites fell into a balck hole or were bungled at the point of contact...

Oh, and I can top "no comment" - as a tactic to dodge a journalist who was pursuing an unflattering story, our team was counseled by a junior-level PR account manager to not say "no comment" but rather to promise but never deliver a return call from one of our executives . Needless to say, it didn't turn out very well!

In PR, you need to be available for the good and even more so for the bad.

KenMueller
KenMueller

I don't know why, but I'm still amazed at this. In this day and age, particularly for a company as big as Best Buy, and an agency as big as Edelman, this should never happen. Mindboggling. This is one of those situations I'll be sharing with my college students as I teach a Social Media Marketing course this Spring.

What it comes down to is that you can have the most customer service and social friendly company in the world, but you have to make sure the agencies,and others that you hire, share that same philosophy. They need to be on board!

rachaelseda
rachaelseda

I think it simply comes down to customer service over all - no matter who it is you provide the best answer and customer service you can - if you don't know the answer tell them you will get back with them ASAP & go do your research!!

Needless to say...somebody's in trouble now...wouldn't want to be the person that didn't take the time to figure it out!

BobReed
BobReed

Readership comparisons are simplistic and ignore the value of how complex and interweaved conversations are now. The value of every voice confirms the efficacy of the Long Tail.

bdorman264
bdorman264

No, that would be a 'come on, man'..............

Too corporate, too layered up, no one wants to take responsibility in fear of losing their job. Everything moves so fast you still need to be responsive in a non-negative way. With the advent of social media it doesn't take long for word to spread, good or bad.

Differentiators, that's what it is all about; it is what we strive for in my industry as well. We don't want to look like 'all the rest'.

JulioRVarela
JulioRVarela

Here is the issue in my opinion: brands don't see this as value yet. Like I tell people, do you want to be on a site that gets 600-700 unique views a day? No? What if you do the same interview with 30 of those blogs? That's 21,000 views a day and 600,000 a month and 7.2 million views a year. Does that work for you?

C_Pappas
C_Pappas

@ginidietrich @HowieG Both of your points resonate with me. The company seemed so scared of what may be caught 'on the record'. In my opinion, a company like that should not be publishing press releases or making public announcements widely known. True, my name should not have been on any public press announcement if I was not trusted to follow-up (had not considered that fact Gini but its a good one to watch for).

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@C_Pappas I really have no idea what to say to this. I think @HowieG is right. But it's also YOUR reputation. If your name is on the materials, a reporter calls you, and you don't respond? That doesn't just hurt the company's reputation.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@C_Pappas that is why I consider this an operations issue. Its about how a company functions vs a strategy or job description. VP of Sales/CEO should be pissed if someone in Press Relations or marketing is no commenting when something can impact sales and thus their bonus good or bad.

Griddy
Griddy

@ginidietrich @JamesDBurrell2 Alright Jamey - I'm back for this one lol!
I think Cliff Notes have nothing on you! They're officially passe and "JB Notes" is the new cheat sheet to subscribe to and buy.

Where were you when I needed you in high school? Seriously?!

This is just too funny. And I'm actually super flattered that you wrote this up. Of course - I have no clue what you mean here and don't why you've pegged me as someone who leaves novel length comments, but hey... ;)

Oh, and I just love the "if a character nittyGriddies on another's blog" - Haha! Can we start using that now?

Seriously - I could go though this phrase by phrase - as you well know lol - but I won't. It's brilliantly funny and I'm gonna' copy and paste this to my computer. I also intend to send the word "nittyGriddies" to Wikipedia hahaha. Kidding - Ooo but someone should hehe.

Thanks for this Jamey. You rocked it big time!
PS - I will be signing up for JB Notes for my own comments lol

JamesDBurrell2
JamesDBurrell2

@ginidietrich @Griddy I was so confused when I saw this come up on my "work" Twitter account. I was like, PR & Eco-Friendly paint... hmm, let's go see what this jazz is all about.

I guess the cliff's notes version would read something like this:

"Characters: Ingrid Abboud, Gini Dietrich
"Plot Summary: Ingrid expresses genuine approval.
"Interpretations: Many literary scholars have argued that Ingrid's character represents a larger trend in online blogging communities where casual readers rarely offer meaningful contributions by either expanding on the bloggers' perceived intent with the post or by substantiating a dissenting opinion. Instead, this genre of readers opts to refrain from engaging any further than expressing approbation to the post's content or tone.

Others suggest the entire comment is an intentional juxtaposition of blogging & commenting behavior. The character's name, Ingrid Abboud aka nittyGriddy has become synonymous within blogging communities with long-winded yet structured arguments that rival novels in length and thesis papers in organizational structure and quality of supportive evidence and documentation. If a blogger nittyGriddies on another’s blog, it can be surmised that the comment’s word count is at least 50% of the original post, and in not so rare occurrences, can actually surpass the blog in total length. Paired with a curt comment, one could conclude this piece to be nothing more than purely satirical if not ironic.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@HowieG I love that @Griddy has you calling me Auntie Gini. Oy. I'm only making an educated guess that the person who responded that they didn't have someone to comment was junior level (between both the email and the fact that the VP jumped all over it). I don't know that to be fact. But you'd hope someone with more experience a) knows who Ragan is and b) handles the response differently.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Griddy A few things:
1. Big agencies always put junior people on stuff like this. It's how they learn. It's how I learned. It's great, from an employee standpoint, because you have so much responsibility. But, from a client's standpoint, they don't want a junior level person acting on their behalf. And really. Can you blame them?

2. Totally agree this person probably thought an answer was better than nothing and just didn't know how to say no comment in a more professional way.

3. I think the care and attention at a smaller company goes for clients, too. It's how my business is run. But I'm also ready to die with how much client work AND Project Jack Bauer work I have to do. We're hiring!

4.There are many, many, many companies that hire global PR firms because no one ever gets fired for doing so. People do, however, get fired for taking a chance on a smaller or boutique firm. So I think they hire less for culture and customer service fit and more for "this protects my job" fit.

5. We can only speculate what happened here. Even if Best Buy decides Ragan isn't the right fit for them (and that's OK), there is a much better way of handling it.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@KenMueller @ginidietrich @Whitney Punchak Not sure I blame the intern. Nothing sucks more than the feeling a response is needed, I am not allowed to respond. But the responders aren't responding. And I am the one who is getting the call back if they don't.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Whitney Punchak When I started my career, my job was to make color copies of the stories we'd placed for a client. Talk about not using my skills at all. BUT as I stood there and waited for those copies to make (back then color copies took minutes for each one), I'd read the articles. When I was finally invited to sit in the back of a strategy client meeting, they asked a question that no one from my team knew the answer to. So I sheepishly raised my hand and answered it. Afterwards, my boss's boss asked me how I knew that and I told him. And hence was born a mentorship program (and a promotion for me)!

KenMueller
KenMueller

@ginidietrich @Whitney Punchak or, you trust them to stand at the front counter of your store, or answer the phone, and interact directly with your customers...and yet, they are the lowest paid employees. Our priorities are screwed up.

KenMueller
KenMueller

@ginidietrich @Whitney Punchak This is a larger scale version of what I hear from businesses that don't want to give their employees access to Facebook. "We don't trust them"....A) what does that say about your hiring practices, and B) what does it say about how you have trained them?

Whitney Punchak
Whitney Punchak

@ginidietrich Your training scheme makes a lot of sense. I've experienced both ends of the specturm (great mentorship and none at all), and nothing can replace good mentorship and training. Most of us junior PR people realize this too and try to find more senior people to lend us a hand.

So, if there are any PROs who have a junior working for them and happen to read this - why not invite them to your next planning meeting?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Whitney Punchak Totally agree with you! I didn't want to get into the issues with the big PR firms and mentorship, but that's precisely why we don't give you access to the external world until you're an AE. You just haven't had the time to develop the expertise until then.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@TravisMClemens I think you're right...so many of us look at media relations as cold calling or sales and never have the proper mentorship to do it right...and build relationships.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@mikecollado I'm sorry. I have to clean up water off my desk from spitting it out when I read this. I have NO idea what to say! Turns out you are, indeed, right! Holy cow! I agree with you...it's more important to comment on the bad news so the story doesn't create something out of your control.

mikecollado
mikecollado

@ginidietrich Yup - the counsel was don't return the call and the journalist would go away. And, no, the agency didn't want to touch the journalist either. Interesting, huh?

My take was that silence = no comment and that would be a very bad idea. Turns out I was right.

You can't only weigh in on good news. In fact, I'd submit that it's more important to comment on the not-so-rosy news. Which Ryan Richert above wisely did.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@mikecollado Wait. You were counseled to never return a call?! Did they want you to go through the firm first?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@deleted_6629_lisagerber I wonder, too, if they decided internally that Ragan wasn't worth their time and that was their response? Or were they just not able to get someone on the phone (which leads to a bigger issue)?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@KenMueller Such a great point! It's about a culture fit and about business growth...as partners, not as company and agency vendor. If Best Buy wants Edelman to answer their media inquiries, my guess is there is a process. Likely Best Buy decided Ragan wasn't worth their time, but there should have been an explanation. And that goes to inexperience more than anything.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@rachaelseda You're right - someone is in trouble! But I like that Ryan responded to Mark and apologized (even if it might be seen as too late). Not being there, my guess is it's somewhere between what @bdorman264 says about not wanting to get in trouble and what you say about doing your research. Perhaps Best Buy didn't want to speak to Ragan...there is just a better way to handle it.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@BobReed So, so true. You never know where dismissing 250,000 readers is going to end up netting a gazillion negative impressions.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@JulioRVarela I agree brands don't see it like that BUT if the PR firm (Edelman) knows the value of a media outlet (Ragan), why don't they have the ability to counsel their clients on the value...just as you've outlined it? I'm 99 percent certain it's because an inexperienced person is answering the Best Buy media inquiry emails.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@deleted_6629_lisagerber @John Falchetto Holy cow is right! First of all, why is any American agency working with a nation in such flux (but I guess that's beside the point)? But best of all...haven't we all wanted to tell a client to go jump off a bridge in a very public way? This is awesome!

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