For years, the perception has persisted that there’s simply no common ground between the Wikipedia project’s approach to maintaining accuracy, objectivity, and representativeness and the interests of professional communicators representing brands and companies. I joined a group called CREWE (Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement) some time ago with the strong conviction that that’s simply not the case. The group’s membership includes not only leaders of some of the biggest communications firms in the world, but also Wikipedians and interested individuals not representing client- or agency-side communications.

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Through ongoing dialogue within the group and incoming requests for help, we found that one of the first places where we could help bridge the gap would be a shared starting point for engaging with the Wikipedia community on its terms. We created a flowchart that helps communicators take the right path in collaborating with Wikipedians on pages in which they have a clear vested professional and/or commercial interest. For the uninitiated, the procedures and culture of Wikipedia can be confusing and labyrinthine, and this represented our effort to make it more approachable.

Building on the efforts of that ongoing group, representatives from CREWE and others came together in February to iron out a shared commitment across communications firms to do right both by Wikipedia and by the clients and professional relationships each firm represents. More than just a group of agency folk, the group also included a large number of non-affiliated and well-known individuals from the Wikipedia and academic communities. Porter Novelli and Voce Communications are proud to be among the charter firms committed to this agreement as released today on Wikipedia.

In short, we’ve pledged to work diligently to bring both sides closer together in a manner that respects and benefits the objectives of each. We promise to seek to understand and abide by all of Wikipedia’s policies and guidelines and educate our employees and clients accordingly, and we also promise to help bring our clients’ expectations more in line with the standards of Wikipedia culture and the open source community.

The text of the statement is as follows:

“On behalf of our firms, we recognize Wikipedia’s unique and important role as a public knowledge resource. We also acknowledge that the prior actions of some in our industry have led to a challenging relationship with the community of Wikipedia editors.

Our firms believe that it is in the best interest of our industry, and Wikipedia users at large, that Wikipedia fulfill its mission of developing an accurate and objective online encyclopedia. Therefore, it is wise for communications professionals to follow Wikipedia policies as part of ethical engagement practices.

We therefore publicly state and commit, on behalf of our respective firms, to the best of our ability, to abide by the following principles:

  • To seek to better understand the fundamental principles guiding Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects.
  • To act in accordance with Wikipedia’s policies and guidelines, particularly those related to “conflict of interest.” 
  • To abide by the Wikimedia Foundation’s Terms of Service.
  • To the extent we become aware of potential violations of Wikipedia policies by our respective firms, to investigate the matter and seek corrective action, as appropriate and consistent with our policies.
  • Beyond our own firms, to take steps to publicize our views and counsel our clients and peers to conduct themselves accordingly.

We also seek opportunities for a productive and transparent dialogue with Wikipedia editors, inasmuch as we can provide accurate, up-to-date, and verifiable information that helps Wikipedia better achieve its goals. 

A significant improvement in relations between our two communities may not occur quickly or easily, but it is our intention to do what we can to create a long-term positive change and contribute toward Wikipedia’s continued success.”

This is more than a bunch of pious words or a theoretical corporate handshake. It’s the way we’ve counseled our employees and clients to operate and is in practice today as we’re actively involved in helping clients work with the Wikipedia community. We recognize that accuracy and credibility are central to the Wikipedia project’s value to the Web and actions that run counter to those goals only serve to lessen its value.

 

Update: Read more thoughts from members of this esteemed group of communicators including Phil Gomes from Edelman, Marshall Manson from Ogilvy, Sam Ford and Steve Cody at Peppercom, Jeremy Rosenberg at Allison + Partners, and Bill Beutler whose tireless efforts as a leader and facilitator drove this statement forward.

More from media and other places the conversation has unfolded: