Triple astroturfing cheeseburger

So, what exactly is wrong with the anti-counterfeiting campaign run by Heidi Cee? Or was it run by Hunter College students? Or was it actually run by the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition (IACC)? Or was it actually run/paid for by the corporations behind the IACC?

That’s exactly the point. If figuring out who’s behind a public relations campaign feels like playing with Russian dolls, you’re most probably dealing with a case of astroturfing. Here, I see a triple case of astroturfing:

  1. IACC is a front group for corporations. Creating front groups or coalitions to campaign publicly and lobby for corporate interests is a textbook astroturfing tactic. See Beder, Sharon. “Public Relations’ Role in Manufacturing Arti?cial Grass Roots Coalitions.” Public Relations Quarterly, Summer 1998.
  2. The campaigns that students have run on many campuses, not only Hunter College, are in fact a public relations tactic for promoting IACC’s goal, are supported by IACC, and paid for by corporations. This relationship, even if it were fairly implemented and did not interfere with course content and academic freedom, is tainted by many shades of gray. To sort through them, let’s think of the publics on those campuses. Do they know that they’re targeted by an IACC campaign? Is it clear to them who exactly is behind the message? Are they fully informed and able to make a decision about the message’s credibility, which includes its source? Some campaign materials I’ve seen on IACC’s website do list IACC and a corporation (Coach, Perry Ellis, etc.) as a source of support. But is supported by a clear disclosure of interest and authorship? The shades of gray are getting darker…
  3. Finally, there’s the issue of a deceptive campaign that uses a fictional character (Heidi Cee) who engages social media. On her blog, “Heidi” writes that it’s her initiative to run this campaign and that she approached the IACC and raised funds from Coach for the campaign. It’s not until the very end of the campaign that a press release and a one-line blog post reveal that Heidi Cee doesn’t actually exist. Some people might find humor in this campaign, but the social media savvy will know that social media culture does not tolerate deception.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a similar case of astroturfing layered upon astroturfing (layered upon astroturfing). It’ll make a neat example in a public relations lesson, one that the poor Hunter College students are learning the hard way.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here are some links to help you catch up on what happened.

First, read this post that summarizes the story: A public relations campaigns class at Hunter College was closely directed by Coach (member IACC) to run an anti-counterfeiting campaign. The campaign used a fictional character. The major issues people point out about this case are academic freedom and the deceptive campaign strategy. More relevant posts on this case:

Update [Feb. 27 9:00 am]: I came across the class blog for this course. It was mainly a tool for students and professors to stay in touch. But I found a number of problematic posts showing that no one thought twice about using deception, such as these about deceiving friends on facebook or the media. And this one summarizes the origins of the campaign’s concept.

That’s *our* Liza!

Yesterday K.D. Paine complimented a PR practitioner for delivering a great pitch, here’s a quote:

Liza, get yourself cloned, we need more like you. Can I persuade you to move to Northern New Hampshire?

It turns out that “Liza” is our Liza, a graduate of Clemson’s Communication Studies program and the future professional adviser of the Clemson PRSSA chapter, should it get approved.

I don’t know about cloning, but there’s no way we’re letting Liza move to New Hampshire! Once the PRSSA chapter gets started, Clemson PR students will have a lot to learn from her.

Congratulations, Liza!

The struggle for attention

For a long time, companies have fought for their stakeholders’ attention. The main challenge was for the message to cut through the clutter and get the public’s attention. I’m noticing this dynamic is reversed in social media. Social media users, and bloggers in particular, want companies’ attention. I’ve come across several blog posts lately that deal with getting (or not) enough/appropriate attention from a company. See cases and links below.

So, why is it so important for bloggers to get the attention of companies they blog about? Is it to feel validated? Is it because bloggers are evangelists of the conversation and this is their way of putting pressure on companies to join in? Is it because, as stakeholders, we assume companies should be happy to finally have our attention and we’re disappointed when our expectations are frustrated?

I’ll collect some case studies here that can hopefully teach us something about this need for attention:

Target dismisses blogger Amy Jussel from; blog storm ensues, story is picked up by the NY Times.

Saturn comments on blogger’s post; blogosphere celebrates Saturn’s engagement. Story here.

Ike Piggott praises companies reading his blog, such as Citi and Canon.

Blogger advises auto insurance company esurance to let character Erin Esurance play in the social media landscape, esurance responds, but bloggers  won’t take no for an answer.

I’m sure there are many more such examples out there (if you send me links, I’ll add them here) that all speak about this struggle for attention.

What are your thoughts? Why is corporate attention so important to bloggers? Are their expectations reasonable? Will this lead to redesigning the PR function so it can participate in thousands of conversations? How should companies handle requests and pressure for attention? –VERY carefully, suggest the Target and esurance examples, as responses will be published, analyzed, and criticized. Oh and… use a conversational human voice. Any well thought-out, well-written response may be dismissed as a “prepared statement.” “Honest opinions pecked off in a few minutes on a laptop” will do. No mercy out there in the blogosphere.

Edelman Digital Bootcamp hosted by the University of Georgia March 1, 2008

I’m looking forward to this event and I hope PR students and educators from the Southeast will attend:
The University of Georgia is hosting the Edelman Digital Bootcamp for students and educators throughout the Southeast March 1.

Edelman, the world’s leading independent public relations firm, seeks to provide both students and educators hands-on skills integration training about the professional use of new media.

Students will break into teams, and then Edelman practitioners will direct them in a mock campaign. Students will have the opportunity to work one-on-one with Edelman facilitators to research, design and implement a social media solution for the assigned client. This approach will allow students to network with professionals while
gaining valuable hands-on experience.

An additional track will be available to educators, with more of a focus on sharing ideas and encouraging the adoption of new media in more communication curriculums throughout the Southeast.  Educators will have the opportunity to discuss the practicalities of teaching new media, share lesson plans and more.

Social media continues to grow, making this event a valuable opportunity. The registration fee is $20 [correction: $25] for students and includes refreshments and lunch during the event. A casual reception for discussion and networking will conclude the conference., the official Web site for the event, will go live a few weeks before the event and feature online registration information, photos, blog posts and other new media elements.

For more information, please contact Cindy Schnably at or (304) 283-6825.