Speaking of the Walmart/Edelman scandal, there’s a Q&A session with Steve Rubel, senior vice president at Edelman, up at the Washington Post. On one hand, as is the rule-of-greasy-thumb for PR double-speak, most of it seems eminently reasonable and level-headed. In fact, a good amount of it we agree with. But there’s a couple of pearls of wisdom that have tumbled from Rubel’s snout that betray the usual slimy patronization of consumers by executives that gets The Consumerist shouting “Spoon!”
Our comments after the jump.
Question: My question is about how to deal with the warning signs that you may be facing a “Dell Hell”… if bloggers have picked up that you are having customer service issues, but these issues are going to take a little while to fix, how do you keep a lid on the grumblings in the meantime, before they takes on a life of their own?.
Steve Rubel: My pleasure. This is a good question. The key thing to do is to make sure that the bloggers who are grumbling know that you are listening and you’re doing everything in your power to help them, even if it’s going to take some time.
How many times have you been at the fast food counter and watched someone get irate? They rant and rave and scream until someone with authority at least listens to what they have to say and then begins to act on it, even if it takes time. Then they calm down. This is the same in the b’sphere.
Yes, we’ve had managers at McDonald’s make sympathetic-sounding harumphing noises to us too. Where this eventually leads is us realizing that we’re not going to get satisfaction and going elsewhere.
Notice that Steve says to be seen beginning to act upon an issue when it is still in the public’s eye. Great advice, except that’s worthless unless you follow-through with it after the public relations crisis has died down. All too few companies do, but in marketing and public relations, it’s what you’re seen to be doing that counts, not actual resolution. Or so guys like Steve seem to think.
Steve is forgetting one major point: consumers are not goldfish. We remember. Especially in the blogosphere, which is inherently cannibalistic and self-referential. The Edelman/Wal-Mart blog scandal, the Dell ‘Hell’, any number of complaints and issues that have arisen from bloggers are going to be cited and mentioned for years to come. This is global word-of-mouth we’re talking about, not an irate foul-mouthed customer screeching at a Best Buy counter while customers behind him in line roll their eyes.
In the case of the Wal-Mart blogging issue, Steve is right: we will lose interest. We will tire ourselves out talking about it. It won’t necessarily be a headlining story at the Consumerist in the coming weeks. But we’ll remember. We’ll reference it. And it’ll make us trust Wal-Mart — a company we already don’t trust — less in the long run. Can Wal-Mart — currently in the fangs of a PR crisis — really afford another blotch upon their skin? Mistakes that Wal-Mart make today are going to have subliminal PR ramnifications for years to come, even when it’s Technorati tag has died down.
Which leads us to this question about the Wal-Mart blogging scandal and the responsibility of full disclosure:
Question: Now that it is widely known that Edelman went to bloggers to push positive Wal-Mart press (NYT 3/8), will you continue to do this in the future?
Answer: I will continue to say that public relations now means relating to the publics directly, not just through media. I support the actions of the WalMart team. However, I believe that we need to encourage bloggers to be more transparent in where they get their information.
And this is what really pisses us off — the words of an unrepentant man who has learned nothing from the bloggers who objected to Edelman’s Wal-Mart blogging push. He sidesteps all responsibility.
Yes, Steve’s right — bloggers should fully disclose where they are getting their information. But if Edelman and Wal-Mart want to be respected by bloggers, they also need to fully disclose who is pushing Wal-Mart or other companies for them.
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with a company pushing a positive spin on one of their clients to bloggers, they need to make it known that that is exactly what they are doing, what they are saying and who they are pushing to.
Accountability is a two-way street, Steve.