Blog written by Cory Sealey
In case you don’t read Gawker.com (shame on you) or consider yourself out of the PR loop, let me fill you in on the most recent Edelman controversy. Edelman is one of the largest and well recognized PR firms in the world. They have worked with iconic corporations and have won numerous awards. To many people outside of public relations, Edelman is the standard bearer for the entire industry. Apparently, that’s not saying much.
In the past few years, the firm has received a heaping spoonful of criticism from a large number of people, groups, and industries, PR included. In 2006, Edelman paid a blogger to write positive reviews about a client, Wal-Mart, and tried to pass the blog off as independent. When they were caught, they admitted to it and apologized, but the damage had been done.
Once again, Edelman finds itself in hot water. The most recent controversy stems from supposed directives from executives at Edelman to tell clients to lie as a part of their media training. Any PR professional immediately sees this as a GIANT RED FLAG. Lying not only makes you look like a hack, but if and when you get caught, you are professionally screwed.
I am not going to weigh in with my opinion on whether I think Edel-Execs told their clients to lie. I used to work at the firm and like Vegas, “What happens at Edelman, Stays at Edelman”. From my experience working there, the firm is a well-oiled machine and nothing slips past the radar of executives. The firm’s president, Richard Edelman, issued a note to gawker.com (which should have been spellchecked!!!!) refuting these claims. He also called out Gawker.com for posting a story from an anonymous source, even though some of the comments left by readers supported a certain shadiness they felt when working with Edelman. Feelings and opinions about Edelman have been carried over to other firms and contribute to the overall mistrust people tend to feel about the industry.
Edelman and the PR industry had already received a serious black eye and had been tried and found guilty by a jury of gawker.com readers (who tend to be well-connected and informed in the media industry). What are mid and small sized firms supposed to do when the large firms create controversy and make the industry look bad? Do people think I am a less than honest person because some giants in my profession decide to operate sans scruples? The industry needs to do everything in its power, besides a public castigation, to ensure one bad Edel-apple doesn’t spoil the bunch.