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Wikipedia’s Ketel of public relations

by Gregory Kohs

Surely readers are tiring by now of the news stories identifying people or companies “caught” editing their own Wikipedia articles. These “investigative” reports seem to appear like clockwork, every few weeks or so. This week, it was the Hirshhorn museum director’s husband scrubbing her Wikipedia entry of controversy. Two weeks ago, it was Koch Industries implicated in a Wikipedia whitewashing dispute. And in the week before that, the news was tripping over itself to expose paid editors who created promotional pages but would delete them if not paid. So, we know, we know. Wikipedia is full of “bad guy” editors pocketing money for their work, or puffing up articles about themselves.

JimboSmugWhat are famous people or large corporations supposed to do, though, if they wish to ethically engage on Wikipedia? Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales thinks he has the answer to save Wikipedia from infiltration by paid and self-interested agendas. He calls it his “Bright Line Rule”. It is simply this:


“Do not edit Wikipedia articles directly if you are a paid advocate. Instead, contribute proposed edits to the talk page, and escalate to appropriate venues on Wikipedia if you are having trouble getting people’s attention.”

Jimmy Wales maintains that this will always work, for just about every corporate entity that is frustrated by false or unfair documentation of the entity on Wikipedia. Jimbo says emphatically, “It is virtually impossible to find a case where a business has tried to do things correctly and failed to get good results. There is no need to directly edit the article.”

Really, Jimmy?

If it is virtually impossible to find a case where a business tried to engage on a Wikipedia Talk page and got lousy results, why did this trusty reporter immediately find such a case when he was recently searching Wikipedia for Grayling PR firm editors? If you search all of Wikipedia’s pages (not just the articles) for “Grayling PR”, the third search result is User:AdamF Grayling, who describes himself as follows: “I’m a PR and Social Media professional working for an international communications consultancy. Clients include: PayPal UK, Hilton HHonors and Ketel One Vodka.” We confirmed this is Adam Fitzpatrick of Grayling PR, who was familiar with the Bright Line Rule when he signed up for Wikipedia. He told us, “As a communications professional, I think it’s important for us to collaborate with Wikipedia editors and maintain best practice.”

This particular Grayling PR employee tried to follow Jimmy Wales’ Bright Line Rule by the book. The PR specialist’s very first edit on Wikipedia was to announce his employment affiliations and conflict of interest. Since that day in January 2015, he has never directly touched any Wikipedia article, instead restricting himself to conversations on Talk pages and User pages. Looking at his edit history, it becomes immediately clear that his objective is to help Wikipedia improve its coverage of the Ketel One vodka distillery.

How much progress has he made? None.

ketel one motto

He took to “WikiProject Spirits” in mid-February to suggest some new content about Ketel One vodka, complete with various sources that might be cited. Some of the sources he suggested were rich with interesting info, including these examples:

Bloomberg Business:
“Ketel One, owned by the Dutch Nolet family since the 1600s”…
– – (but Wikipedia says Ketel One was “Introduced 1983”, with no source provided)

…in 2007, “embarking on a worldwide expansion with a new distribution partner, British drinks giant Diageo”…
– – (Wikipedia does not mention Diageo at all in its article about Ketel One)

…”Between 2003 and 2006, Ketel One grew 41% in the U.S., according to Adams Liquor Handbook. That compares with 91% for category juggernaut Grey Goose. But it handily beat the 13% growth for Stolichnaya and 8% for Absolut, and at a time when more than a dozen new or recently established superpremium vodkas were fighting for shelf space.”
– – (Wikipedia does not mention the growth of the Ketel One brand in its article)

Slate Magazine:
“Ketel One — a family company from Holland that’s been around since 1691″…
– – (Again, Wikipedia says 1983, without a source)

More than a month went by without a response to Fitzpatrick the PR man. So, in April, Adam tried again. Still no response. Two weeks later, he tried his message at Wikiproject Brands. Not a soul replied to him, and the appeal for help was archived by a “bot” in July. In late April, he reached out to two specific editors for help. They ignored him. And he even reported himself to a “Conflict of Interest Noticeboard”. At least there, an editor named “Pigsonthewing” dutifully helped to typeset his request, but beyond that no help was provided, and the plea was erased by another bot within a week.

Waiting for help from Wikipedia

Wikipediocracy has seen this happen all the time, so it’s no surprise. Jimmy Wales announces that things are a certain well-and-good way on Wikipedia, but the reality is quite the opposite. He tells PR firms to just ask for help, and volunteer Wikipedians assuredly will come running; but in reality, the typical Wikipedian completely ignores the PR man. This is how Jimbo’s “Bright Line Rule” often works — he shames the PR firms into obeying it, then when they try the method, it doesn’t work. Eventually the pendulum will swing back, and PR firms will discover that if they just “pretend” to be a Wikipedian for a few days before and after their PR editing work is done, they can very easily improve Wikipedia with their missing content in a do-it-yourself capacity, and none will be the wiser.


This article originally published on Examiner.com here: Wikipedia’s Ketel of conflict of interest.

Image credits: Picture of Jimbo Wales adapted from this one found on Wikimedia Commons. Ketel One image courtesy of Ketel One. Image of Wikipedian waiting for assistance adapted from this image which was marked as available for reuse.

9 comments to Wikipedia’s Ketel of public relations

  • So, you see, that’s the way it goes in Hazzard Wikipedia. Where the Dukes Wiki-pedians will even help out their enemy when the chips are down. That’s plum typical of the Dukes of Hazzard Wiki-pedians. Too bad it ain’t the same everywhere else, huh?

  • Tarc

    If a PR firm promoting the newest Pokemon movie followed a similar path, the person might find him/herself squaring off with a bunch of rabid fanboys who think they know the product much better than the PR person does, who will then be stonewalled and stymied at every turn. I’m not sure which outcome is better; to be ignored by the uncaring or to be attacked and dismissed by loons.

  • Martin Hatchuel

    God help us if Jimbo ever finds religion.

    “I am the wiki, the truth and the light, and no one shall come unto the information except through me.”

    Also: Wikipedia is right coz Wikipedia says it’s right.

    SMH. I prefer pier review.

  • Martijn Hoekstra

    This is partially my fault; I planned to pick this up, but I drifted away again from Wikipedia for quite a while. The following is unsourced and from memory.

    If I recall correctly, the Nolet family has been producing alcohol for a long time. Some sources suggest 1691, though it tends to be tricky to pin things down to an exact year for things like this.

    They have traditionally produced jenever, A dutch product very similar to gin. In the 1970’s Carolus Nolet became the head of the family business, and things started to take off. Carolus was an excellent businessman, and recognized that jenever would not have much appeal outside the Dutch market. He simultaneously increased the market share in the Netherlands by promotion through liquor stores, setting a recommended market price beyond that of his competitors to stress the premium image of the brand Ketel Een, and investigated the possibility of producing a different product in the United States. In order to facilitate this, he set up Nolet International. I’m fuzzy on the ownership details of Nolet International; either it was set up as a new entity owned by the Nolet family, with Nolet B.V. as a subsidiary, or the other way round. Either way, the Nolet family maintained full control.

    With Nolet International he sought a business model for the US, and decided vodka would be a good product to attempt to re-enter the market (an earlier attempt was made in the early 1900’s, and abandoned during the prohibition). This product was released to the US market (exclusively) in 1983. The USA operation was lead by Carl Nolet Jr, Carolus’ oldest son. In 1991 Nolet USA was created as a subsidiary (part or full) of Nolet Intl. to further the USA activities. I believe there was some collaboration on the brand with Guinness Intl. but I’m unsure on the exact deal.

    Currently, Ketel One vodka is “owned” by a joint venture between Nolet Intl. and Diageo. Whether Diageo owns a 50% stake in Nolet USA, or if it’s a Ketel One brand-specific collaboration I don’t know exactly.

    The entities Ketel One vodka the drink, Ketel One vodka the brand, Nolet International, Nolet B.V., Nolet USA, the Nolet Family, Distillery and Ketel 1 jenever are all separate subjects, but closely related. Starting with all these articles would be a bad idea, but having an article about Ketel One vodka discuss the history of the Nolet family felt equally wrong. The article needs a re-focus and a re-write, and the helping hand of someone with Ketel One PR would be very welcome.

    At the same time, The Nolet brands under Carolus have always been very concerned with projecting an image of authenticity and heritage. For example, an old still of the Schiedam distillery, later named Ketel 1, was chosen as the image and name of the brand around when he took over the company. The view of Ketel One as a family business, while it’s currently owned for 50% by Diageo, the largest alcohol producer in the world, is flawed.

    As a second example, In 2005, Nolet built a traditional looking windmill at the site of their Schiedam distillery. Their advertising and heritage stories often prominently feature the windmill De Walvisch the family either bought or built in the 1700’s, often featuring a photograph of the newly built windmill alongside it, but rarely to never noting that that’s not that windmill. I’ve never been able to find out what the faith of the original windmill was.

    Fitzpatricks suggested edits, that mostly focus fairly heavily of the history of the Nolet family made me at least somewhat suspicious that this too was an offensive to bolster the image of Ketel One vodka as a family business, and not so much as wanting to improve Wikipedias coverage of the “Ketel One vodka distillery” (an entity that – as far as I know – doesn’t exist. But the Schiedam Nolet distillery does. Which is yet again a related but separate “subject” and again much broader than Ketel One Vodka)

    To say that Ketel One vodka was founded in the late 1600’s is simply not true, but that the Nolet Family has been producing alcohol sine that time is. Focusing only on Ketel One vodka for the article would be in my opinion a mistake; a broader article does more justice to the subject.

    It’s somewhat tricky to find sources that are not press releases, but I was hoping to collaborate with Fitzpatrick when I answered his questions in January 2015, seeing if he could help me with these sources. Around the time, I sort of drifted away from Wikipedia though, and I never came back to the second request for help in February. It’s nice to see you brought it up again though, I’ll see if I can dedicate some time to it again. It’s an – at least to me – interesting subject, and with sufficient care something nice could be made out of it. What the Nolet family did both with Ketel 1 Jenever and Diageo/Nolet did Ketel One vodka is some really nice work that demands admiration. The current Ketel One article on Wikipedia certainly doesn’t.

  • It’s interesting to note that in the three days since this blog post was published, the Ketel One article has undergone more content revision than the previous years of its existence combined. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Ketel_One&type=revision&diff=683213032&oldid=682627509

  • K-FLA¥

    This is another vapid, indirectly self-important piece of “criticism” by Mr Kohs. I only wish I had more grammatical errors to piss hIS OCD ass off with this comment.

    • So much hatred from someone afraid to even stand behind their comment with a real name. Must be one of those “typical Wikipediots” that we hear so much about.

  • Ross McPherson

    Great bit of writing, Greg: well shaped argument, good research and nice phrasing. I can’t figure out why WP doesn’t want you, unless it’s this: well shaped argument, good research and nice phrasing.

  • Andy Walsh

    Nice piece–I recall this. However, it’s not accurate to say that he received no reply at WikiProject Spirits. Both Martijn and I responded to him (I removed an unsourced bit he was challenging, and advised him we could not accept copyrighted text from the Ketel One web site), which is why he later reached out to us when he was suggesting edits. I share responsibility in dropping the ball; at the very least I should have responded and told him that I wasn’t interested or didn’t have the time.