"Sometimes, you just have to stand up there and lie. Make the audience or the reporter believe that everything is okay. How many times have you heard a CEO stand up and say 'No, I'm not leaving the company' and then - days later - he's gone. Reporters understand that you 'had' to do it and they won't hold it against you in your next job when you deal with them again."
— Edelman Senior Training Executive
It was fascinating to watch faux woke joke and quintessential cliche of a PR agency in the worst possible sense Edelman struggle to turn its cowardice and hypocrisy into a win this week. Particularly and especially since they failed.
Surely you know of what I speak: The latest big agency tone-deaf marketing disaster story broken suspiciously simultaneously in the ethically struggling, run-by-a-creep New York Times and Adweek, with Edelman abruptly pulling the ripcord on its ill-advised-from-a-PR-standpoint deal with private prisons company The GEO Group, which was being targeted and scapegoated for the perceived sins of the Trump administration’s separation of illegal immigrants’ children from their parents and their “parents” at the Mexican border, even as one-quarter of the “parents” turn out to be probable human traffickers.
Considering how impeding humanity’s emotional, intellectual and empathetic evolution looks to be Edelman’s groove thang, it seems a bit weird that this is where their suddenly enlightened employees would draw the line, but hey—we’ll take what we can get when it comes to disgruntled underlings sticking a plank in the spokes of one of the world’s largest and most despicable propaganda cabals of corporate conniving and cancerous communications conspiracies.
Trust me. I know of what I speak. I’ve had unpleasant, unethical dealings with the too-smooth-by-half leader of the eponymous agency, and dealt with its consistently dishonest spawn on numerous fronts over the years. Like a virgin schoolmarm with Long Dong Silver, my first Edelman experience was the worst and most painful, but almost all of them share sinister similarities that suggest an ingrained communications strategy rooted in fundamental dishonesty and self-generated fake hype.
When I worked at MediaPost covering Edelman's "Wal-Marting Across America" scam in 2006, CEO and Prez Richard Edelman himself personally called me and "swore upon his professional honor" [off-the-record, of course] that they had no idea the people driving the RV and staying at Wal-Marts and blogging about how great it was were actually a Washington Post photographer doing double-duty, and a woman who had a family member who was an Edelman executive.
When I later discovered that the organization financing the trip, "Working Families for Wal-Mart," was a shell company SET UP BY EDELMAN ITSELF, Dick Edelman would not take my calls but instead wrote a mea culpa for his personal blog. As did Edelman's WoM specialist Steve “Rubber” Rubel, who likewise pled total ignorance that the whole thing was orchestrated by Edelman. Dick Edelman did speak to me later, on-the-record, to apologize. But only after he got caught.
Since you gotta figure Edelman the agency and presumably its CEO Dick Edelman were cool with PITCHING the GEO account, it doesn’t really sound like too much has changed in the 13 years since Dick Edelman lied to my face. They’ll try to get away with as much as they possibly can, and, if caught, eject and try to spin the hand-in-the-cookie-jar moment into a happy mistake we all learned from.
But who is learning what, exactly? My repeated experience with PR people who work or have worked at Edelman is that the "off-the-record lie" is a go-to communications propaganda strategy. People who work or have worked at that firm have crossed my path and deployed that tactic again and again throughout my career.
”The fish stinks from the head down," as my grandmother used to say.
But hey, don’t let me come off as the bitter bastard burning—Edelman’s got a looooong rap sheet that showcases their business as the type of place that would gladly take ten bucks to put your mother’s corpse on strong twine and make it dance like a puppet. Or at least Robin Williams’.
Remember when Edelman lost a slew of executives who got sick of working for a place that played the climate debate from both sides for maximum profit?
How about when a bunch of make-your-kids-fat corporations and associations formed the Law of Inversion named “American Council for Fitness & Nutrition”--a clown world creation with the subversive actual intent of stifling regulatory action intended to confront and combat the nation’s obesity epidemic. Who did ACFN members Kraft Foods, Chocolate Manufacturers Association, Sugar Association, National Council of Chain Restaurants, Association of National Advertisers, and so on, literally ad nauseam...who did this crew choose to flip the fake news script from healthy to hellish? Edelman!
And who did the shady Red Cross turn to when it backstabbed 9/11 families by keeping nearly half of the half-billion dollars it raised for the so-called “Liberty Fund” after the Sept. 11th attacks? Edelman!
And what about your dead mom’s malevolent marionette sendoff? In 2014, Edelman advised clients to "Seize the day," and capitalize upon tortured comic genius Robin Williams' tragic suicide with a "visible and aggressive approach" to create content tied to Williams' death.
You would think that pointing out this type of despicable soulless anything-for-a-buck hypocrisy would be like shooting fish in a barrel or hanging Harvey Weinstein in a whorehouse. But apparently not, which is why I ended up writing it here. Last week, the half-smart/half-hopeless closed Facebook PR/Media group to which I may not still belong after this gets published had a bunch of lemming-like lapdogs licking Edelman’s hand after its not-so-brave slapdown of the GEO Group (there were, to be fair, a few iconoclasts pushing back).
Quite a belated stand to take, too, since all reporting stated Edelman so impressed the client they didn’t even have to pitch against anybody else. But then they quit and apparently gave the story to the Times and Adweek, because fucking over your client two times is twice as satisfying as paying the sister of an employee to shill for Wal*Mart.
Ah well. Professional denialism continues even though the fatal iceberg hit has already occurred. There are already two large agencies dealing with a kind of primal moral awakening among their younger employees. That we know of. Like bugs in the walls of a decaying building, if we see two, there are probably 22. At least.
Still, the mentality of too many remains that Leo and the Titanic might be going down, but maybe if we all wish really hard, our whores will turn into heroes...even as all indicators IRL are flashing bright red that the opposite is true.
Me? I know a Dick move when I see one.