If the PR industry can agree upon something in 2007, it should be that there is proper disclosure and ideal disclosure, and it needs to understand why the former is no longer enough.
In a campaign with proper disclosure, Edelman sent expensive computers pre-loaded with the Vista operating system to bloggers. The agency encouraged bloggers to disclose their receipt of the product from the Edelman/Microsoft team, did not demand any reviews, and said bloggers could keep or return the computers.
This disclosure, however fair, left too much to chance. Bloggers who were not included would be able to seize on one inadequately worded or omitted disclosure, and the spirit of the program would be compromised.
One poor blogger at MSTechToday.com, who has expressed much contrition for his wording, referred to the review computer as such: "During the holidays I'll be busy playing with my new laptop -the Acer Ferrari 5000. Yup, I traded in my Dell XPS 1710 for a little something different."
That simple statement, careless or intentionally vague, has gotten him and the campaign unwanted attention. Had Edelman announced the campaign first, it would have eliminated standing for most of the complaints.
Edelman take-down fetishists and those who did not get the computer could still complain, but their views would seem less valid had Edelman spelled out why they chose the bloggers and the expensive computer, and what their expectations were from the bloggers. A taciturn approach does nothing to dissuade critics from assuming that PR is either stealth or duplicitous.
In an environment when more citizens (or, at least, louder ones) are interested in discussing PR, firms will have a rough spell if they bank on others handling their own disclosure.