Industry must self-police flogging

It's time PR goes on the offensive in supporting truth and justice in the blogosphere.

It's time PR goes on the offensive in supporting truth and justice in the blogosphere.

If we hope to embrace - rather than alienate - the better part of humanity and its growing choice of communication, we have to put an end to the ham-handed attempts of some to pull a fast one on the blogosphere.

I'm talking about flogs, those apocryphal posts ranging from Internet videos to the written word that pose as organic consumer-generated media and dialogue on the Web.

You would think that after some of the very public gaffes from big-name corporate brands and agencies alike that we'd have learned our lesson. After all, in the words of communications guru Steve Hayden, "If you fudge or lie on a blog, you are biting the karmic weenie."

Yet the flog roll call continues to grow. Look no further than Edelman's now legendary attempts to punk the blogosphere on behalf of Wal-Mart with its recent Wal-Marting Across America campaign. The public and professional outcry was deafening, and Edelman was contrite in response.

But when it came to reprimanding one of its most senior agency members for the infraction, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) gave Edelman what many believe was little more than just a slap on the wrist.

In the absence of any true accountability, we all take a black eye for the misdeeds of a few. Relying on education, benign codes of conduct, and superficial punishment is clearly not sufficient to keep all of us honest as flog infractions continue to pile up.

Well, enough is enough. We must become vigilant about policing ourselves and holding guilty parties truly accountable - not exactly a perp walk, but something that suitably calls out floggers and marks them as such.

Call it the National Flog Offender Registry. It can take the form of a Web site serving as a database of the companies, agencies, and individuals that have flogged their way to infamy.

First-time offenders get posted on the site for one year and then, barring any further fakery, are removed. Repeat offenders are called out on a permanent roster of naughtiness for all the world to see.

The Flog Offender Registry would serve two purposes: first, as a deterrent for any would-be flogger who would rather avoid such public humiliation. Second, as an online resource for corporate marketing and PR professionals to search as part of any credentials check of prospective agency partners or employees.

Rather than circle the wagons and protect our own, how refreshing would it be to see our industry willing to name names, hold us to a higher level of transparency, and pave the way for a truly authentic and trusting relationship between PR and the blogosphere?

To really step up to the challenge, the Flog Offender Registry would live on the PRSA Web site or be run in conjunction with a group like WOMMA. That would go a lot further than the lip service seen from some of these organizations when it comes to flogs.

Otherwise the sense of us vs. them will only grow - flog-peddling flacks against online truth-tellers. With the blogosphere doubling in size every six months, we can't afford to be on the outside looking in.

So what do you say, WOMMA? Are you willing to put your Web site where your mouth is?

Stephen Jones is an EVP at GolinHarris.

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