While David Almacy was working for the White House, a stint he ended last month when he joined Waggener Edstrom's DC office as VP of digital strategies for North America, he displayed an understanding of the blogosphere's importance, particularly as it related to crisis scenarios, when many inside the Beltway were still wringing their hands about social media.
His insight revealed itself two years ago during a particular controversy. Almacy received a call from the AP just as he was headed to the airport to spend the holidays with his family. The reporter asked if he knew the White House was using illegal cookies to track users on its Web site.
"My immediate response was, 'No, we're not aware that's happening,'" recalls Almacy, then the White House Internet and e-communications director. "It turns out we weren't aware it was happening because it wasn't."
For the next two days, Almacy embarked on a fact-gathering mission and ultimately found the White House to be in compliance with law. But other national media had picked up the AP story, and it was linked on popular blogs like the Drudge Report, he says.
"It was challenging because everyone wanted the story to be true," he recalls. "There was a sense that people had already made up their minds."
Almacy's next step was trying to get the White House's response as much coverage as the initial story. He clarified the issue with the story's sources and asked the AP to print a retraction. Almacy says he haggled with the news agency until it printed what he calls a "quasi-updated article" that included new quotes from him emphasizing that the White House had always followed the law.
The story hit during the typically slow late December news cycle, giving the matter more attention than usual, he speculates. And the National Security Agency was found to be using cookies on its Web site just days before, putting extra media scrutiny on the issue. It wasn't just the 24-hour news cycle that took such a quick hold of the story, but also the then-emerging presence of blogs.
"To this day, there are still a number of blog postings [on the issue] that are very misleading," says Almacy.
He added RSS feeds, podcasts, weekly e-mail updates, and on-demand video to the White House Web site and launched its redesign earlier this year. He also held issue-based conference calls for bloggers on both sides of the political fence, but says he didn't hear from liberal bloggers very often.
Glenn Reynolds, who blogs at Instapundit.com, commends Almacy for the Web upgrades. He says it helped bloggers enhance their sites with links, as well as audio and video transcripts.
"Bloggers love raw data, and they did a pretty good job of providing that - and in a linkable form," he explains. Despite the revamped Web features, however, Reynolds says the White House still didn't take bloggers seriously enough.
"[Blogs] are a good early warning system for spotting things that might be a problem so you can prepare for them," Reynolds says.
But this isn't Almacy's problem to solve anymore, as he brings a refreshing philosophy to both WE and the industry as whole: Push technology only with purpose.
"There's a lot of buzz and a lot of discussion about all the different types of technology out there and all the things that can be done," he says. "But my approach has always been [to] talk about what should be done."
Waggener Edstrom, VP of digital strategies for NA
White House, Internet comms, e-comms director
US Dept. of Education, senior adviser