A corporate PR type a few years ago told me that he was paid to keep his company’s name out of the press. In an age of Web 2.0 and the information explosion, I don’t know how a company crawls under a rock.
Evasiveness and declining comment can backfire. Just ask Tiger Woods.
I have always fought to comment. But lately, I have learned not to trust well-meaning journalists to get it right. And without trust, mum’s the word.
Call me jaded but at least, hear me out.
Recently, I provided backgrounders to two seasoned journalists writing for respected publications. And twice the information was maligned.
The first reporter worked from a draft with “embargoed” stamped on it in big letters. I cautioned her not to use it yet.
Consequently, we found a mistake in the draft, corrected it and sent her the final approved version under her deadline, pointing out the error in the previous version.
Despite our best efforts, she plugged the error into her article draft. As a courtesy, she provided the article to us before it went to press. We caught her mistake and she corrected it before it went out.
Or should I say that we caught our mistake? Perhaps, giving her a draft subject to change was our miscalculation. For sure, the incident caused friction and finger pointing and most likely, mildly damaged our relations with the journalist.
The second journalist received highly technical background information from us that was intended as a primer. The problem was that the reporter used too much poetic license in his article and misapplied language in the backgrounder to a specific case involving our company’s product.
The reporter also failed to interview our product developers despite an opportunity to do so.
The article, unseen by us in draft form, went to press and is now a problem. We will ask for a published correction that readers rarely notice.
Did the reporter make the mistake? Or was it ours for providing information that was misused?
Certainly, our company has benefited from being proactive with the press. So the answer is that providing backgrounders to journalists is a judgement call. The upside for us has usually been better than the downside.
But never overlook the wisdom of a minimalist approach. Sometimes to say less is best, especially in cases where the company is not familiar with the reporter.
Now you can call me jaded if you must. That is, if you can find me. I’m under a rock now.
— Mike Wysatta, PRSA Houston Board Member