One of the most controversial issues in current public relations and crisis communication thinking is the issue of dealing with attacks from the media. I have run into this several times in the past year in work I have been doing so I know it is very much a live issue.
The non-confrontational answer: 1) remain focused on telling your positive story 2) don’t pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel 3) don’t elevate a story beyond what it is making the situation worse by drawing more attention to it or drawing it out into a longer crisis
The confrontational answer: 1) A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth 2) reputation is based on credibility and if the attack has serious weaknesses in facts or truth it is necessary to point that out 3) its a black hat/white hat world and and accusation (naturally white hat) will stand unless thoroughly refuted and the black hat placed on the accuser
There is no doubt that I tend toward the second answer more than the first, with this caveat: it is very much situation dependent.
While I think the great majority of PR thinking is still based on the first one, I see more and more evidence of the second approach being used and to good effect. I’ve commented here earlier on a couple of examples of Elon Musk taking on his critics both in the federal government and in the New York Times. Now we see Jeff Bezos taking on the New York Times on the issue of the work culture at Amazon.
It’s a huge issue. Amazon’s rep took a huge hit with the piece by the Times. Was it fair? You decide. Does it give more credence to the non-confrontational or confrontational approach. Which is best long term for Amazon’s reputation? Would it have been better for Bezos and his comm team to let the issue die quietly, or would it have continued to fester? Is his response sufficient to overcome the evidence presented by NYT. I see all these as ultimately about credibility–given this, who will emerge as the winner?
I’d love to hear other thoughts on this. Because it is a question I face almost every day being actively involved in issue and crisis management where the question is far from academic.
Lots of folks are weighing in on Jeff Bezos (Amazon’s founder and 25Bn rich guy) buying the Washington Post. I’m reading the comments on the Washington Post feed–fascinating.
There seems to a sense of dawning of a new day of journalism in a lot of the comments. Almost a sense of relief that maybe there is hope for journalism yet. That if anyone can see how to make journalism work in a time of social network, crowd-sourced news and nano news, it is someone like Jeff Bezos.
I like this comment from Matthew Ingram of GigaOm: “The next few years could be a fascinating time to be in the newspaper business, if only to watch someone like Bezos remake it from the inside out.”
And of course there are the skeptics who ask what any tech guy, no matter how smart, might know about real journalism.
If it indeed does happen as many expect that Bezos will take a creative new approach emphasizing high volume, low margins, attracting lots of customers without as much regard for margin as typical (he more or less invented the attract a crowd and figure out how to get them to pay later model), if indeed he Amazonizes the Post and from that the news business, then this day will be seen as momentous in journalism history. I somewhat suspect he will. But, my guess, unlike many of those so dedicated to “journalism” as in “traditional journalism done only by professionals” is that he will find a way to harness the power of crowd sourcing. No doubt there will continue to be those who can make a living providing other people the information they are looking for. Some may even be considered and called journalists. But the future of news is harnessing and leveraging the vast information sharing that is going on right now and that will only continue.
How Bezos will make that a profitable venture in the very heart of traditional journalism will be fascinating to watch. Over course, I could be completely wrong. Maybe he’s tired of revolutionizing the world. Maybe he just thought: Hmmm, I got an extra $250 million burning a hole in my pocket. Should I buy a sports team like my buddy Howard Shulz–hmm, that didn’t turn out so well. How about a newspaper? Yeah! In Washington DC! Yeah!
I was fascinated the other day with Breaking News On announcement of the White House announcing a press conference via Twitter. What’s amazing about that, is that they announced it via Twitter quite a while before letting the press know via traditional means.
Then this story today about Amazon and Zappos announcing the acquisition of Zappos by Amazon. They did it through company blog and posting a video of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. They ignored main stream media calls. Ignored them. The cheeky ValleyWag blog commented:
Bezos cut out the middleman — the press, in this case — big time. And why not? Instead of having to answer boring financial questions, Bezos got to pontificate on Amazon’s history, ostensible focus on its customers, and on his management philosophy. The manic laugher would never have been able to sermonize like this in the Wall Street Journal.
Note: Cut out the middleman. Exactly. I’ve been trying to convince public relations managers, heads of communication, emergency response managers, PIOs, etc., that they days of media-centric communications are gone. Been preaching this since 2001 when I wrote it in my book with the chapter title: You Are the Broadcaster.
Clearly Amazon and Zappos could benefit from all the news coverage around this important acquisition. Clearly they are getting it. Plus a lot of blog talk, etc. But they opted not to go first–or in this case, at all–to the media. Why? Because they are the broadcaster and they know it. The post-media world is here to stay.