Public Relations Reaches Blogosphere

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

A few years ago, when Richard Edelman and his public relations associates wanted to pitch a story on behalf of a corporate client, they would call their contact list of influential editors and television personalities.

These days, they also pitch Web loggers.

“Public relations has changed so that now we call both. In other words, we pitch from the bottom up as well as from the top down,” Mr. Edelman said in a recent interview with The New York Sun. “We have nine full-time bloggers to advise clients how to blog and how to deal with blogs.”

He is CEO of Edelman Public Relations, the world’s largest independent agency, with 2,000 employees in 49 offices worldwide. The company has led the industry in terms of its commitment and investment in the so-called blogosphere, which now totals an estimated 34 million blogs worldwide. Edelman’s total billings for the 12 months ending in May were $305 million, up from $206 million the year before.

Known as “emerging media,” blogs began as diary entries by individuals to be read, and replied to, solely by friends. Because they are posted on the Web, though, they have the potential to reach anyone with a computer around the world if the ideas, photographs, or artwork are considered captivating, controversial, or somehow of value. Some now have enormous audiences, in the hundreds of thousands.

“Companies must learn how to manage this,” Mr. Edelman said. “The reality is that companies face the problem of having employees with blogs who are griping about internal matters concerning their employer. Companies now have consumers with blogs who are annoyed and complaining about products or corporate behavior on the Web to hundreds or thousands of other consumers. Still others have blogs by NGOs that are complaining about offshore labor practices or environmental problems caused by a company’s operations or products,” he said.

Blog management has become a logical extension of public relations and advertising strategizing, he said. Not surprisingly, technology companies selling computers and software have used blogs for some time. They have marketed and promoted their products through their own blogs and by providing information to authors of blogs aimed at technology aficionados. Other advertisers are now getting this message.

“Tech companies get it, but packaged goods or food companies are going to change,” Mr. Edelman said. “Microsoft promoted its Xbox using blogs who cover gaming to get traction and create a positive predisposition for consumers and the media.”

Most recently, Britain’s Unilever moved markedly into blogs to promote its Dove and Axe personal care products. “For instance, the first media mention of the Dove ‘Real Beauty Campaign,’ featuring six women in underwear, was made in an influential blog called Gawker,” which was chosen because of its large, influential audience, he said.

“Certain blogs are read by reporters in the mainstream media, and then they call the client to do a story,and that’s how publicity is obtained,” Mr. Edelman said.

His company was involved this year in a successful promotion for AXE body spray on MySpace, a network of teenagers’ blogs. A popular MySpace female contributor agreed to sign up “friends for Axe” and attracted 60,000 teenage boys for the promotion.

“The promotion cost $100,000 and it generated all kinds of press interest,” he said.

Another example of blog-related public relations involved Wal-Mart Corporation’s recent annual general meeting. Edelman’s bloggers set up a special Web site in advance that was promoted, and offered live video from the “American Idol” winner who was performing at the meeting.

“This humanized the company and gave them the horizontal conversation: the peer-to-peer conversation, or word of mouth,” he said. “The ‘new thing’ in all forms of marketing is that companies must understand that the person consumers trust most are persons most like themselves.What we’re seeing is a devolution of authority.”

Edelman is 80% owned by the Edelman family, and key employees own 20%. It was founded by Richard’s father, Daniel Edelman of Chicago, who is chairman. Considered a pioneer, the senior Mr. Edelman launched the enterprise, and public relations itself, with his “Which twin has the Toni?” hair perm campaign in the 1950s, which proved that major attention in the press could increase sales.

Today’s public relations is about finding out how to spread a message in a manner that consumers trust. This means spreading the word in unorthodox ways and not strictly through paid advertisements.

“We’ve increased our income by 28% in the last two years,” Mr. Edelman said. “We argue that if public relations is 4% of a corporation’s budget it ought to be 5%. This is where companies have to spend money, and they are getting the message.”

The New York Sun

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