Edelman Offers $175 to D.C. Reporters for “Messaging Refinement”

Thought "pay-for-play" went the other way?

Typically, the best agencies have a “collective reputation” in the industry. There’s little breakaway speed because they are all great. And this includes the big boy on the block, Edelman.

Again, that’s “typically.”

Colby Itkowitz, national reporter for the Washington Post’s “The Loop,” wrote a story with an eye-opening and intriguing lede for all PR lovers out there. She scribes a tale of the uber PR firm sending emails to “a few reporters” on behalf of a client in the federal sector looking for insights to help “refine their agency messaging.”

If you have acquaintances, colleagues, or even “friends” in the media, it shouldn’t be a haul to ask for said introspection. As one unnamed Edelman flack was quoted, “We are hoping to gain insight into how our messages are being received by journalists.” No worries there. In fact, it could be argued as wise.

And then this happened. It’s what came next that delves into the more slimy stereotype of the industry:

It asked the reporters to “keep the conversation confidential” and not to “report on anything discussed in the interview.” For participating, Edelman offered to “donate $175 to a charity on your behalf.”

PR_EdelmanItkowitz cites Alison Knopf, editor of Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Weekly, who ran into a couple of Heismans with said rep not disclosing the client on account of getting the most candid responses.

As only a sleuth journalist would, Knopf discovered the agency was the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

This is a very necessary federal agency, so kudos to Edelman for looking for the perfect message points. However, the way this went down doesn’t bode well with the PR ethics experts out there, much less Knopf.

“If any health agency needs guidance about what to tell reporters, they don’t need to pay a public relations agency to find out,” Knopf wrote in her weekly trade publication. “They can just be transparent, answer questions directly and provide sources without minders. Nobody needs another layer of spin.”

Amen, sister. A-MEN!