Microsoft’s PR Firm Makes Ironic Blunder

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An experienced public relations firm can be just what the doctor ordered when you’re trying to inject a positive message about a new product or service into the collective consciousness of the media. There are rare occasions, however, when PR professionals make the kind of mistakes that you just can’t help but laugh at.

Microsoft's PR Firm Makes Ironic Blunder
Microsoft’s PR Firm Makes Ironic Blunder
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When Wired columnist Fred Vogelstein saw the latest e-mail from Waggener Edstrom in his inbox, I’m sure he figured it was just the latest in a long line of spin from Microsoft’s PR firm about how Channel 9 is going to change the face of the video blogging industry.

After all, he had been working with the company in covering the story, so it only seemed natural that he might be getting some follow-up material to look at.

What Vogelstein got, however, was much more interesting.

Contained within the e-mail was a thirteen-page dossier from Waggener Edstrom about, ironically enough, Fred Vogelstein. The document meticulously outlined the firm’s strategy for dealing with Vogelstein, offering detailed insights into his style of reporting and the best way to communicate information to him. You can view the document in its entirety here, but here are some choice snippets:

  • “It takes him a bit to get his point across so try to be patient.”
  • “Fred’s questions went as expected with no surprises (transcript attached)”
  • “We’re pushing Fred to finish reporting and start writing”

Vogelstein comments on this unusual fortune:

As journalistic windfalls go this is about as good as it gets. There I was writing a story about how Microsoft is on the cutting edge of using the Internet to become more transparent, and there in front of me are the briefing documents they are using to manage the story.

The timing was so fortuitous that I wondered whether it was intentional. When I told Microsoft about it, they convincingly told me it was not.

A blunder? Definitely. Am I surprised that Waggener Edstrom kept this type of information? Not particularly. I would’ve been more shocked if such a well-known PR firm hadn’t been doing its homework on how to deal with certain journalists, especially those that wield any kind of influence in the industry.

Journalists are raising another interesting question, though. Should they be able to have access to the dossiers that are being written about them? TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington, for example, would love to get his hands on whatever information is floating around about his reporting style.

Journalists really don’t have any particular entitlement to these kinds of files, though. Are they conveniently forgetting that, as reporters, they keep the same kinds of files on their contacts as well as specific companies? They don’t seem overly concerned about sharing that information, so why should they expect anything different in return?

Of course, like any good PR company, Waggener Edstrom is trying to turn the whole ordeal to its advantage. Frank Shaw, company president, writes a blog entry that all but ignores that a journalist received an e-mail he shouldn’t have, and instead focuses on how keeping these types of files enhances the interview process and is beneficial for clients in the long run:

Seriously, in this case, the interests of a journalist and PR are totally aligned – a great interview is always the best possible outcome.

And that doesn’t mean an interview where a spokesperson endlessly repeats key messages – that’s a loss. It’s an interview where the person is prepared to talk, has the relevant data at hand, understands the story premise and his/her role, and doesn’t waste time going over the same territory as a previous interview.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let the spin begin.


Microsoft’s PR Firm Makes Ironic Blunder
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  • Spectate Swamp

    Thats what happens when you share. Sometimes sharing gets one into trouble.

  • Johnny Whitehurst

    I must admit that I read this story primarily because I saw the black man on the floor. Does he work for Microsoft or for the PR firm or are they one in the same. Never the less, the key thing is that I read this because I saw the black man on the floor. It looks like he needs help. Based on the story, he does need help.

    Does’nt he know that it’s hard for a man to make money lying on his back?


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