UK PR firm Bell Pottinger looks out for its clients — so much so that it edits their Wikipedia pages, reports Dave Lee at the BBC.
And that doesn’t sit well with the big wigs at the online encyclopedia.
Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales in particular doesn’t appreciate his site being used as a PR platform, telling the BBC that he was “highly critical of their ethics” and “embarrassed their clients.”
Then, he slammed Bell Pottinger some more: “I offered to pop by their office next week and give them a speech on ethical editing of Wikipedia – but I guess they didn’t think that was too amusing so they didn’t respond.”
The company admits that it edited pages, but reiterates that it didn’t do anything illegal. Wikipedia has traced the edits to 10 offending accounts, and posted the list of articles on its site.
Bell Pottinger is one of the UK’s largest PR and lobbying firms, and this news comes on the heels of a scandal involving the firm boasting about the “dark arts” it uses to influence governments.
People try to spin Wikipedia articles all the time, but it’s rare to see it come from a big name PR firm. Sure, it’s a minor scandal, but it’s a big lesson in PR. Most PR firms have explicit rules against things like this, but this one didn’t, or some employees just didn’t care.
Amanda Guisbond at PR-Squared put it well:
As the PR agency, we can help to shape our client’s message and influence the perception of the average Wikipedia user through company-generated content (e.g. corporate blog), third-party interviews (media, bloggers) and conversation (Twitter chats!). It’s not our job, however, to misrepresent our clients by manufacturing false praise online.
When a PR firm screws up, it not only looks bad on them, but their clients too. In the case of Wikipedia, PR firms should simply stay away. If something is inaccurate, contact the site and go through the appropriate avenues — don’t just do it yourself.
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