When PR is the news
Despite the best intentions of public relations practitioners, meticulous media relations planning doesn’t always create the desired result. A high profile example of how it can go horribly wrong surfaced in the Business section of this morning’s Times of London, as Ian King, the paper’s business editor (and erstwhile business editor at The Sun), turned his critical eye on Amazon’s PR efforts.
Under the headline ‘Amazon and the heart of darkness’ (you already know it’s going to be bad), Ian tears into the US behemoth’s media relations efforts. He relates how a Times reporter was requested by Amazon to sign a non-disclosure agreement prior to a media briefing, and how the proffered spokesperson spoke solely in “syrupy soundbites” and referred the journalist to a press release rather than giving straight answers to his questions. (N.B. The full article can be read in all its devastating glory on page 51 of the newspaper, or online with a subscription).
Furthermore, Ian finishes his story by bringing up the company’s “aggressive tax avoidance”. Not only did the PR approach fail to generate a positive piece about Amazon’s new music service which was the pretext for the briefing, it also gave Ian cause to churn up memories of another damaging controversy in the company’s recent past. Safe to say, the column is unlikely to end up pinned to the clippings board in Amazon’s press office.
The coverage, which appears in one of Britain’s most respected newspapers (and was written by one of the country’s highest profile business journalists), isn’t pleasant reading for anyone at the US company, not least the press team. It’s a perfect reminder of what a delicate balancing act media relations is, and reinforces the need for companies to road test their media relations tactics and corporate messaging before using them, precisely to ensure that they don’t result in unintended outcomes. Because as Amazon has shown, when PR backfires, it does so spectacularly.
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