PR firms outline Wikipedia compliance in joint statement

Edelman, FleishmanHillard, Burson-Marsteller, and Ketchum are among the firms that have signed the framework.

PR firms outline Wikipedia compliance in joint statement

NEW YORK: In an effort to mitigate the "complicated relationship" between Wikipedia and PR pros, ten communications agencies have developed a joint statement outlining how they intend to comply with the online encyclopedia’s policies.

The participating firms are: Beutler Ink, Ogilvy & Mather, FleishmanHillard, Peppercomm, Burson-Marsteller, Ketchum, Porter Novelli, Voce Communications, Edelman, and Allison+Partners.

The statement, released Tuesday, acknowledged that the "prior actions of some in our industry have led to a challenging relationship with the community of Wikipedia editors."

Since last October, the Wikimedia Foundation, the group that runs Wikipedia, has been in dispute with Wiki-PR, an agency whose primary service is editing Wikipedia pages. The Foundation sent the firm a cease-and-desist letter in November after it allegedly failed to comply with Wikipedia's terms and conditions by engaging in paid advocacy editing.

However, Wiki-PR has told PRWeek that it does paid editing for clients, but not paid advocacy work.

Representatives from the agencies involved said they hope the framework leads to a better relationship with the online encyclopedia.

"The only time the communications industry and Wikipedia are in the news together is when someone gets caught doing the wrong thing," said William Beutler, president of Beutler Ink, which says it helps companies work "ethically and transparently" with Wikipedia to improve articles. "There is a lot PR and marketing firms can bring to Wikipedia, and many Wikipedia editors have had good relationships with PR firms who want to point out errors on Wikipedia."

This issue was discussed by PR firms and 11 individuals from Wikipedia's volunteer community at a roundtable Beutler organized in February. The firms agreed to work on a joint statement expressing respect for Wikipedia's goals, intention to act in accordance, and openness to an expanded dialogue to find areas for common ground and collaboration, explained Beutler.

The statement stipulates that participating firms commit to better understand the fundamental principles guiding Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects; act in accordance with the site’s policies and guidelines; and abide by the Wikimedia Foundation‘s terms of service. They also agreed to internally investigate and correct potential violations of Wikipedia policies and take steps to publicize their views and counsel clients and peers to conduct themselves accordingly.

"I think it would surprise a lot of Wikipedia editors to hear [through this statement] that PR firms can speak the language of policy and know Wikipedia’s best practices," said Andrew Lih, an associate professor of journalism at American University’s School of Communication, who has been a Wikipedian since 2003. "The statement goes a long way to say the PR industry respects what Wikipedia is and believes there is an ethical engagement to be had. That is a big step forward in just having that understood by the community."

The ultimate goal is for every firm in the marcomms industry to participate, said Beutler.

Beutler and the participating agencies will promote the statement to other PR firms on a Wikipedia project page, though their company blogs, and social media.

Lih and Beutler are also spreading the word at conferences. Last month, they spoke about the statement at WikiConference USA, and they will also discuss it at the Wikimania conference, an annual global meeting, planned for London in August.

"Just being able to have this statement out there is one of many steps to let the Wikipedia community know [PR firms] are not as bad as people say we are in terms of a profession," said Phil Gomes, SVP at Edelman Digital. "How the statement is received, both by people in the industry and the Wikipedia community, will dictate how we move forward."

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