Posted by Amanda Chapel
Speaking on behalf of PR Mega-Agency Edelman, SVP Steve Rubel announced last week a preference for "companies and products that have the guts to say 'we suck.'"
Of course, I first thought that he meant companies that have the guts to say "Edelman sucks." But no. Edelman apparently likes companies that indeed suck.
That's when the announcement started to make me squirm some. As a business, has Edelman concluded that there are a hell of a lot more potential clients that suck than don't? Apparently, if you're a company that sucks, Edelman is absolutely the right place for you. That I get. But I wonder, has CEO Richard Edelman devised a comprehensive strategic plan to not only align the company with "suck," but really take a leadership role?
Silly. No, it's just dumb. I mean, what a patently dopey thing for Rubel to say. It's more nonsense from the Grand Poobah of the Loose Cannon Club.
Let's put that in perspective...
All organizations are comprised of diverse parts. Ya got your college preps, hippies, greasers and sports primarily. Each subgroup brings their own set of talents. Bottom line: the spokesperson talent does not necessarily come out of the RSS-Geek-Tool-Blog-Moderator-Bald-Douche-Bag type. As such, an undisciplined geek is NOT the guy you want speaking on behalf of the institution. That's something that Rubel and the Me2FlyingGomes just don't get. Rubel has publicly questioned who should speak on behalf the company. That's just painfully goofy. Death by a thousand cuts, where is thy sting?
Okay, I've spent way too much time trying to figure out what in dear God Richard is thinking. I can come up with two possible scenarios:
-- First, it's all about internal control. Think of "The Edelmans" as the over-liberal parents whose solution to high school drinking is to tell their boys that it's okay as long as they do it at home. I mean, the kids are going to do it anyway.
Of course, indirectly, that sanctions/promotes the activity for all the other teen drunks. And of course, drinking soon becomes only a small part of all the God-only-knows hedonistic nonsense that goes on over there.
-- Second, the Me2REvolution is a loss-leader effort to stimulate other profitable sales. It's just sales promotion pure and simple. I mean did Richard buy Rubel for the new business he brought? No. Has Rubel justified his salary in new business or client service yet? Doubt it. Is Rubel's blog Micro Persuasion a huge billboard advertisement for Edleman? You bet. No more; no less.
Good? I don't know. It all has to be weighed against potential exposure. Sure, one could easily argue that besides the RSS-tool stuff, who takes Rubel seriously anyway? But I don't think it's about conversion, per se, it's just plain general awareness. I don't think Rubel's statement regarding companies that "suck" convinced any actually suckie companies. The statement did however negatively tattoo Edelman.
Worse yet, what about the potential for legal exposure that could result from having teenage-drinking parties at your home?
Well first off, there is subtle genius behind Rubel's announcement. Companies that truly suck rarely sue. That's fact. They've got no money. But there's always the odd-ball chance that one will. It might take a thousand monkeys to write Hamlet; but it only takes one to inspire a claim against your company. Simply stated: "Open conversation" is a corporate risk.
Why? Even the Edelman kids understand the central conflict. Edelman's Mike Krempasky says it clearly: "Almost every blogger faces a conflict between his or her writing and the day job." Phil Gomes weighs in to make that boundary clear as mud: "[Some] might take a dim view of the humor and freewheelingly gonzoid writing style of [my] site. That's why [I] have taken to calling it a "perso-professional" website."
See... as much as they might claim "The views expressed on this blog are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer," in light of the conflict, legally that would not hold. Certainly, their differently branded webs sites are nothing more than an extension of their role as social media experts selling social media expertise for their "master." As the PR business is 24/7, when do they take their corporate hats off? Never. Who would argue that Micro Persuasion is not an extension of Edelman?
Now hold that up to the law. Is an employer responsible for an intentional assault by an employee? You bet. Consider this:
In light of that, now read/reread Krempasky's recent headline "Dana Lejune. Still an assclown." First imagine Richard Edelman (respondeat superior) saying that on behalf of his firm Edelman. Now consider just how close or over the line of legal liability that is.
Lots to think about. Antithetically, there are lessons here for any corporation thinking about defining rules for employee blogs.
Here are a few take aways:
1) Children should be seen and not heard. Better said, loose lips sink ships. I had a boss once that had a hard fast rule: "Get caught talking about company business in the elevators, you're fired."
See, I think that today's juniors take offense to that. And as there are a lot of juniors blogging, the misperception is widespread. It's free speech vs. corporate speech. I had a junior who after being cautioned about her behavior insisted that America was a democracy and free speech was her right. I fired her on the spot.
2) The Edelman kids are flaunting no consequence and just begging to get whacked. Krempasky's "two favorite letters of the alphabet are C & D" (Cease and Desist). Forget the ethical implications of that, just focus on some punk looking at an adversary and pointing at his chin. These aren't just loose cannons, they're loose canons proud of being loose cannons. And when they ultimately get in trouble, dad is going to pay big.
More clarity here is only a matter of time.
EDITOR'S NOTE: As of this posting, Edelman is the #1 fan of Strumpette. I hope they don't like us because we suck.
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Totally agree. These same "kids" don't care that the email logs in their corporate crackberries are no safer than email logs...
btw, you just demonstrated your real age is closer to 45 than 35, and you're leading some of us to wonder whether you attend Law school at night while the little ones are asleep
Unfortunately, I'm starting to lose m hair a little bit too (chalk it up to bad genes). But I make that shit look good.
Good post. You say it much more eloquently than I could.
It's not about Edelman it's About Rubel
Hey, Edelman just recently became one of my sponsors so take this with a pinch of salt, but what I think Rubel means is that companies that don't want to spin, but are willing to sometimes say we screwed up are a heck of a lot better to work with than those that just want to hide their heads in the sand and pretend all is hunky dory...
Yeah. But as a general rule, PR people should not be in the position of "what I meant was."
Also as a general rule... "suck" and "assclown" are not words one should use when acting as a spokesperson for your company. Period. As these folks claim to be "PR pros" who advise companies for a fee that should not even be an issue. Regrettably, the Me2FlyingPRs actually advocate a "freewheelingly gonzoid writing style." At some point that's going to get them in trouble or they are going to get their clients in trouble.
I attended an all-men's college (I'm giving away my age), went to boys camp for 6 summers and was a Boy Scout so it's not like I haven't heard my share of profanity and crude language. What offends me about the "we suck" reference is the writer's obviouis lazy attitude about clear and effective writing. Or maybe such skill is beyond him. Edelman should demand more from its people than the type of stuff heard from drunks in baseball grandstands.