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Edelman and Murdoch

Jay Rosen has an amazing Storify thread in which he engages in a public enquiry about Edelman PR’s taking NewsCorp on as a client. Jay is breaking ground in how journalism works.

DISCLOSURE: I count Richard Edelman as a friend. I like and respect him. I have also been paid during a couple of stretches as a consultant to Edelman on PR in the networked age. The last time was maybe a year ago. I have not spoken with Richard or Edelman employees since then.

In my last engagement, I tried in my small way to get Edelman (the company) to adopt a view that recognizes that the Web is quite literally built out alignments of interests: People put in links and affiliate with one another because they share interests. Marketing traditionally has been premised all too often on a misalignment of interests: The business wants one thing and the market wants another. PR should, imo, recognize and respect the Net’s aligned nature. PR should genuinely enhance the interests expressed in the market, and otherwise shut up. Something like that.

I have also advised Edelman that when a business’s interests and the market’s interests are not aligned over matters of fact or philosophy, the business should consider adopting a tactic of “advocacy marketing” in which the business states its case frankly, truthfully, transparently, honestly, and respectfully. So, if the company think it’s getting a bad rap, it should (for example) put up a site that acknowledges what’s being said about it, make its case, address the contrary claims, engage with those who disagree, and always link to its sources.

If I were Edelman PR, I would probably agree to take on NewsCorp, but only if I were satisfied to a reasonable degree (yes, them’s fudge words) that NewsCorp was ready to tell the truth. (Clients do lie to their PR companies. The first time Edelman catches NewsCorp lying to them, Edelman should quite publicly drop them.)

If I were Edelman, I would not suggest advocacy marketing. NewsCorp does not have a side of the story worth telling. The only way forward for NewsCorp is to go many extra miles in transparency. Come clean not only about the phone tapping and the bribery, but about the culture of soft influence, the partisan reporting that fruitlessly claims it’s non-partisan, the degradation of once worthy newspapers.

Edelman should not, in my opinion, be helping Murdoch tell his side of the story. Edelman should be helping Murdoch to confront the truth, to follow the truth all the way through, and to tell the truth over and over and over again.

Taking on NewsCorp will test the ability of PR itself to continue to exist as a representative only of the client that pays the bill. I do not believe PR can survive if it does not see itself and its client first and foremost within the web of shared interests.

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