Steve Rubel :: “picture in picture” marketing = “promotion in column” transparency lapse?

If someone writes about a client’s (or partner’s) programs or offerings, shouldn’t they divulge the relationship?

Here is one example from Romenesko where the “Baltimore Sun drops (G. Jefferson) Price’s column after ethics dispute.” This columnist was writing about a client’s activities and the relationship was not disclosed. The Sun dropped the column.

Now, knowing that, let us consider this. The two examples have similarities with the Sun’s problem.

Steve Rubel has written two articles for AdAge magazine’s Digital section (here and here).

In both of Rubel’s articles, MySpace and Technorati are referenced in a positive manner. Is there an undisclosed relationship between the Edelman senior VP and MySpace/Technorati?.

On May 22, 2006, Richard Edelman announced that “Edelman will have an exclusive right to offer Technorati’s analytic tools in Chinese, French, German, Italian and Korean, starting with French in July and continuing into early 2007.”

Here is one press release that shows MySpace was, and I believe still is, a client of Edelman.

In the first Rubel AdAge article, the reference was this:

Consider the chatter: Technorati is tracking 40 million blogs and 1.2 billion posts a day. MySpace, a social network unheard of three years ago, is the eighth-biggest site on the Web and growing by 240,000 members a day-that means the population of Buffalo, N.Y., joins MySpace every day, for those keeping score.

In the second Rubel AdAge article, the references were:

At the same time, people are flowing in droves to sites where they can create, share, connect and consume content published by their peers. That same April comScore report found that over the past year traffic to sites such as MySpace, Citysearch, Wikipedia, Blogger and others skyrocketed by at least 200% apiece, while total U.S. Internet audience grew only 4%.


Recently Paramount Pictures and blog search engine Technorati unveiled a conversational advertising campaign to promote Al Gore’s new documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

In both articles, the references to MySpace and Technorati are clearly touted as the sites to watch. They are given positive, if not glowing, endorsements, in my opinion. So, what’s missing? How about something like, “Hey, these two companies are clients.” (Update/clarification: The relationships are, for the record, Myspace as a client and Technorati as a partner/vendor.)

Well, you go read the articles. Show me where the relationship between Rubel/Edelman Worldwide and those two clients is revealed. It isn’t.

The irony is that Rubel’s second article refers to “Picture-in-picture advertising” and marketing. Well, this looks like “promotion in column” without disclosing the relationships marketing. Is this the new “picture-in-picture” marketing?

Another irony is that the articles tout participation in the dialogue and conversation by readers, yet the only opportunity to engage in conversation is this email address –

Rubel writes, “The future is creating ways for consumers to seek out conversations.” and “If you’re not part of the dialogue, then get out of the way.” Well, then offer that conversation aspect on your columns and/or get out of our way.

Look, I like Edelman Worldwide, AdAge, Technorati and MySpace. But, this seems like bad practice, to me.

Rubel also writes, “Buckle up. It’s time to blast off.” I have a suggestion. If you can’t manage to be transparent in your writings, please be quiet. You do more harm than good when your judgement lapses this far off course. Each incident adds to the speculation that social media offers more pitfalls than promises. If you continue to follow this lack of transparency path, after you blast off, you’re likely to land on Uranus.


0 thoughts on “Steve Rubel :: “picture in picture” marketing = “promotion in column” transparency lapse?

  1. Steve Rubel

    Update/Explanation: Well, unfortunately my Akismet and Spam Karma 2 plugins have been grabbing comments all day. The bad part is that these are comments it should not be grabbing. So, the following are the attempts that Steve Rubel tried to make earlier. I just put them all in one because I didn’t know which order they came into the blog and didn’t want to be in the position of editing his comments.  So, here are Steve’s comments.  My apologies to Steve for the snafu.

    You’re absolutely right. Both columns will be updated. Each reference on my blog carries the disclaimer but there’s no reason why the AdAge pieces should not carry the same level of transparency.

    Robert, thanks for raising this. You’re absolutely right. Both columns will be updated to include the disclaimer I use on my blog.

    It’s something I should have done at the ouset, but failed to. Thanks Robert, as always, for keeping us honest.

  2. Chris Clarke

    First, there has been a “clarificaton” posted on the latest of his columns. I’m sure you’ll be happy to hear this.

    I can’t imagine why Steve would not have disclosed his company’s relationship with those clients in the first place. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if has put it in the article and it was perhaps edited out. It isn’t his blog, so he doesn’t have total control over the content.

    Steve always mentions who his clients are in his blog. I don’t think Steve would omit that just because it’s a different forum.

  3. Robert

    Note from editor:

    Steve Rubel emailed me this stating that he was having trouble making a comment in my blog. I have had problems with the theme. My apologies.

    Here is what Steve wrote:

    “Robert, you’re right. Thanks for raising this issue. A disclaimer will be added to each column – including the prior ones – when it’s appropriate.

    Feel free to add this. I can’t. The captcha never displays.”

  4. Robert

    Chris, your claim that Steve Rubel always mentions his client relationships in his blog shows that you have not read his blog a great deal, nor – obviously – have you read it over a long period of time.

    Just one example of this kind of lapse in that venue would be to look at all the comments from Jeremy Pepper in Steve’s blog. I think that anyone who has followed the relationship between Jeremy and Steve would point that out to you in a heartbeat. Jeremy has, I believe, called Steve on that very point in his (Steve’s) blog several times.

    Sorry, Chris. But, you are wrong on that claim.

    I have posted Steve’s email about the clarification being added to the articles and I believe he was right to do so. That is “good practice” and serves Steve, his clients and AdAge well and in the appropriate manner. I credit Steve for being willing to make the correction.

  5. Robert

    Ah, Chris, a snarky reply? I promise I’m getting out every day. Also, I promise you I wasn’t trying to be snarky to you. Apologies if you think I was.

    Good luck with your new job. I believe you have joined a great firm. You will be served well by your experiences with Thornley Fallis. Congrats!

  6. Chris Clarke

    Thanks, Robert. Snarky indeed, though. I don’t see why everyone is jumping on the “Bash Rubel” bandwagon.

    From my perspective, I think there are other ways of going about getting Steve to be transparent. Why wouldn’t you just send Steve an email and not call him out publicly? I just think it’s a bit much. But of course, this is the sort of thing blogs are all about.

    I don’t think Steve is trying to deceive anyone by sometimes not posting a disclaimer. From what I can tell, there’s a disclaimer after every few posts since he joined Edelman. I sound like an apologist, though. He should be completely transparent, but he’s obviously scrutinized because he’s one of the top bloggers around.

    I have joined a great firm, and I’m lucky. Thanks!

  7. Stephen Davies


    Where has Robert ‘bashed’ Steve in this post? I see all points valid, and, judging by his comment, Steve does too.

    I would say Robert is being more transparent by posting it on his blog as opposed to sending Steve an email. After all, isn’t that a benefit of the blogosphere? To open it up for discussion.

    A large readership also comes with responsibility, and I’m sure Steve is perfectly aware of that.

  8. Robert

    Thanks, Stephen. I think Steve’s comments here actually answered Chris, too.

    Chris, and i do not mean this to be taken as snarky or condescending, but you really need to do some research on this issue.

    Your statements suggest that I have never emailed Steve and that I am bashing him. If you had read my blog before posting, you would have seen that I’ve written about this very topic before regarding his practices. Neither of your implications are true, Chris. You didn’t know that, did you? Did you write to me before posting your comment?

    This isn’t a bandwagon, Chris. I honestly do not regularly read Steve’s blog. I only revisited the AdAge column because I wrote about it recently. The omission was glaring, to me. So, I wrote about it again. And, Steve’s responses on this blog answer it quite well, I believe.

    Simply put, Chris, many people have posed these questions. What you might want to consider is, why are we still asking them?

    I thought you might be giving a bit of snark. I’m not sure where it comes from, or why you’re addressing it to me, but that is OK. You have already stated that “this is the sort of thing blogs are all about” for you.

    That isn’t what they are about for me. My primary audience is my students. I write about examples of PR practice, good and bad. I then discuss them with my students. This blog post was one such exercise. I do it every week. This is just one of those instances. Nothing more.

  9. Lauren Vargas

    Thank you, Robert. I have also addressed this topic and pleased your blog’s large readership spreads the word.

    Kudos to Steve for replying so quickly and making the changes. However, it does bother me if actions like this are pre-meditated or are becoming second nature/habit. Scary. How many similar articles/posts slip under the radar? Countless. Everyone needs to speak-up for the preservation and needed revolution of our industry. As CC Chapman has said, “You can’t manage the gray.”

  10. Mike Driehorst

    Good information, education and practices to follow, Robert.

    It seems that this whole give-and-take regarding the fact that the connection between Steven Rubel/Edelman and MySpace and Technorati was omitted kind of echos a point or two made recently by Richard Edelman (Why Bother?) (my emphasis added below):

    “We should move toward conversations, a full set of facts (positive and negative) about products or companies, and open discussion .

    Second, we should confront misbehavior in PR . . . so that the business community and other stakeholders know that we do not condone malpractice.”

    The full and open discussion that has taken place — Robert bringing up the lack of transparency by Steve, Steve’s mea culpa, and subsequent comments — show that, by allowing for openness and discussion, the truth and better practices will ultimately prevail.

    — Mike

  11. Pingback: HealthCareVox

  12. Chris Clarke

    Robert, if you talked about this issue before, you might want to point to it early on in the post so new readers or occaisional readers can look back on the topic. Your post doesn’t suggest that it is part of a series of posts you’ve written on a similar topic. In fact, it seems to stand alone. You’ll excuse me for not knowing you had discussed this issue at an earlier time.

    I’m not a fan of calling people out in the blogosphere. I had a bad experience with it, and I’ve learned that if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Some people will attack the big names like Rubel just to get traffic and/or attention, but that’s not the sort of thing you do here. I think that blogs like Strumpette and posts that criticize people (when a simple email would have done the trick) are also doing more harm than good. I think there are other ways to advance the conversation.

    I think what you wrote was completely fair up until the final paragraph. In my opinion, it was entirely unnecessary. (That’s where I find the “bashing”, Stephen.) Wouldn’t you agree that your post would have been complete sans the final paragraph? It feels so out of place.

    Rubel has done so much for the blogosphere, especially the PR corner of it. So many people are trying to bring him down of late, and I don’t think that’s fair. That’s what I meant by “bandwagon”. I didn’t mean to imply that you were driving it.

    I don’t know how to take your comment that this blog is intended primarily for your students. Does that mean I should unsubscribe to the feed? Not post any comments? Enroll at Auburn University? Your blog is for everyone who reads it, regardless of whether or not they are a student of yours.

  13. Robert French

    Chris, the only thing I can think of to say is that when I’m going to post a comment, I want to at least have done some research on what I’m writing about so – I look around.

    In essence, I think this comes down to your bad experience online. I’m sorry that happened to you. It has happened to me, too. Takes a thick skin to step out there, Chris. Don’t know what else to say.

    The last paragraph, Chris, was a simple warning – or heads up for anyone – using a play on words to get the attention of the readers. It was harmless and not cruel nor mean-spirited. That’s all.

    Finally, as for your last paragraph, I was merely stating the purpose of my blog. I’m glad you came by and commented. Don’t know that you are, but I am.

    I do want to ask you one thing, though. You write, “Rubel has done so much for the blogosphere, especially the PR corner of it.” Chris, please tell me what those things are? What exactly are all these things he’s done for the blogosphere … and for PR? That will be interesting to hear.

  14. Robert French

    Lauren: Thank you. I would agree that lots of these things are happening every day. In fact, I would not be surprised if I goof up and do it one day. And, I agree that it is hard to manage the gray. I also believe that, in our profession and in an educational setting, we must look for these examples and talk about them openly. It is the only way we can improve.

    Mike: Your example just screams volumes. Thank you. So well said and so well referenced and linked. Terrific. I’ll be sharing that with my students. I appreciate the comment.

  15. Robert French

    Fard, thanks for the link to the HealthCareVox article. Your information about how doctors are wary of social media (blogs) speaks to the concern that lapses can only slow the adoption and practice of social media in some healthcare environments, for example.

  16. Chris Clarke

    Steve is the face of the PR blogosphere. He has been active within it longer than many have (although not the longest by any stretch) and he’s the most popular PR blogger in terms of technorati and the PubSub list. He’s easily the most visible PR blogger.

    What Steve does validates a lot of this social media stuff. He is always talking about what the social media stuff he’s doing for one of the biggest PR agencies in the world, which will likely rub off on other agencies fairly soon.

    He’s a big supporter of what I’m doing at my blog, and he was nice enough to pose for a picture at the mesh conference with me.

    I think someone else might be better suited to answer this one, but that’s my perspective.