Edelman In The New World

Eight months ago, Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman Worldwide, started a blog called 6 AM. In weekly posts he has addressed ethics in PR, education, innovations in online communication, his travels and other topics on his mind. Edelman Worldwide is the world’s top independent PR firm. As can be expected, PR Watch took exception to some of Edelman’s ideas in a post called “Edelman’s Rescue Plan For The PR Industry.” I recommend that you read the post and my response to it.

Edelman’s blog is significant for two reasons. One, it is rare that the PR industry would willingly expose itself to public criticism, especially in an uncontrolled forum. Second, as head of a firm with over 40 offices worldwide and 1,800 employees, Edelman is a CEO who is willing to become more than a figurehead to his clients and the people who work for him. The Internet in general and blogs in particular allow the brave and the willing to offer their views to the widest possible audience, understanding that a post lives forever and anybody at anytime can take a shot at you.

The public relations industry is at a major crossroads, steeped in peril and opportunity. It is widely understood, especially in the upper echelons of the ad business, that mass marketing is dead. The question is, can public relations practices adapt to the new open-source, open-forum world of communication and learn to influence constituents through dialogue that is not available to traditional advertising, or traditional public relations. Public relations cannot manipulate or co-opt the blogosphere. The repercussions can be swift and merciless.

What is especially intriguing about Edelman’s blog is that he has much to lose. He needs to protect his franchise, assuage employees, and not agitate clients – like any CEO. What can he say that is not deemed self-serving or excessively inflammatory? His firm will soon release a new policy on ethics, as a response to recent scandals in the PR industry involving masking sources of “news” (Ketchum) and inflating billings (Fleishman Hillard). He is calling for industry-wide standards on ethics, beyond the much-ignored PRSA credo.

The public relations industry does not have a culture of innovation or risk. It has operated essentially the same for the past 50 years. As we are forced to take baby steps into the new world of communication, can we find a way to lead by example? Edelman, at least, is trying. | See Mark Rose Bio

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