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Mark Twain famously said, “I never quarrel with a man who buys ink by the barrel.”

Now that the internet has ended the correlation between barrels of ink and reach of audience, companies are more inclined to “quarrel” with the media.

In the old days, if a company took issue with a critical article, it might write a letter to editor, contact the publication’s ombudsman or cajole a correction out of the journalist’s boss. These actions seem downright quaint in today’s world  in which companies can use owned media to blast away and deliver their point of view directly to the target audience. Between blogs and social platforms, all organizations can gain the means to reach an audience as large or even larger than a media property.

I also think what emanates from the White House these days adds digital fuel to the fire. Even if you find the behavior fit for “The Gong Show,” there’s no getting around that President Trump’s combative approach to the media further emboldens others.

You could make an argument that the White House has been leading the charge in turning to owned media as a counter balance to journalism. In fact, it’s the Obama administration that transformed owned media and in doing so ticked off journalists, a complaint symbolized in a USA Today opinion piece from 2013:

“The Obama administration is deep-freezing the news media because it can. It’s nothing new for administrations to try to control the narrative. But Obama is the first president to serve in the Age of Twitter. With extensive use of its Whitehouse.gov website and its fluency on social media, the administration can get its message out on its own terms, bypassing the middlemen and women.”

Here’s the upshot —

Walmart, Tesla, the Brookings Institution and last week Kaspersky Lab are just a few of the organizations that have taken the fight directly to their media nemesis and punched back.

Let’s take a deeper look at Kaspersky Lab’s recent tangle with Bloomberg Businessweek brought to my attention by friend and colleague Frank Strong.

The Bloomberg Business story threatened Kaspersky’s business, making a case that the company is in bed with Russians.
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Kaspersky Bloomberg article

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Obviously, it’s an inflammatory accusation given that every day seems to bring a new tidbit that Team Trump enjoyed a helping hand from the Kremlin.

Kaspersky’s move was straight out of the Crisis 101 handbook: don’t allow your adversary — even if that adversary turns out to be a media empire — to own the narrative. And the sooner you fling your point of view into the digital sphere, the more likely your perspective propagates right alongside the media story.

Bloomberg Businessweek published the Kaspersky story on July 11.

Kaspersky managed to go live with a document refuting the charges on the same day.

Such nimbleness pays off in how Kaspersky surfaces during organic searches. Plugging [Kaspersky Businessweek] into Google brings back a SERP (search engine results page) showcasing  both the Businessweek piece (point) and the Kaspersky clarification (counterpoint) high on Page 1.
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Kaspersky Businessweek Google Search

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It’s the perfect outcome from Kaspersky’s perspective.

Drilling down to the next level, I asked two questions. Is the document persuasive? Does the document leave the reader with the impression that Kaspersky is right and Bloomberg Businessweek is wrong?

In both cases, the answer is no.

The headline delivers a promising start with academic-like language:

“Kaspersky Lab response clarifying the inaccurate statements published in a Bloomberg Businessweek article on July 11, 2017”

Unfortunately, it’s downhill from there with the document depending on superlatives, adjectives and adverbs to carry the narrative instead of dot-connecting logic. Even though I wasn’t in the room, you can tell emotions ruled the copywriting exercise.

The first passage is an utter mess:

“Regardless of how the facts are misconstrued to fit in with a hypothetical, false theory, Kaspersky Lab, and its executives, do not have inappropriate ties with any government. The company does regularly work with governments and law enforcement agencies around the world with the sole purpose of fighting cybercrime.”

Huh?

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Rather than make a case in which the reader concludes that Bloomberg Businessweek reshaped facts to fit a flawed hypothesis, Kaspersky chooses to club us over the head with its message, a tactic which only works in Flintstone cartoons.

It would have been so much more effective to start with a simple sentence and build from there:

“Kaspersky Lab does not have inappropriate ties with any government, including the Russian government.”

There’s no need to hide the source of the heartburn, Bloomberg Businessweek, or hide the specific allegation involving the Russian government.

Contrast the Kaspersky approach to how Brookings refuted a damning story in The New York Times:

“An article published by The New York Times today, reported by Eric Lipton and Brooke Williams, portrays a picture of the Brookings Institution in a way that fundamentally misrepresents our mission and distorts how we operate, particularly in our relationship with corporate funders.”

Everything is out in the open where it belongs.

What we see in the Kaspersky response from start to finish is too much of “too much.”

Bloomberg Businessweek: “It has developed security technology at the spy agency’s behest and worked on joint projects the CEO knew would be embarrassing if made public.”
Kaspersky response: It’s important to be clear, the company never received a request from the Russian government, or any affiliated organization, to create or participate in ANY secret projects, including one for anti-DDoS protection. In the mid-to-late 2000s, Kaspersky Lab was already working to put together an anti-DDoS offering as well as asking customers, prospects …”

Are there times when it’s NOT important to be clear?

Back to the big picture, it’s healthy for companies and individuals to challenge the media. Such discourse produces better journalism. Given the allegations in the Bloomberg Businessweek story, Kaspersky took the right action in communicating its side of the story.

But writing a response that seemed more a cathartic release rather than winning over public opinion didn’t serve the company’s long-term interests.

Side note: For more on companies taking swings at the media, check out “The Walmart/New York Times Spat Reveals a Bigger PR Trend


Comments

  • Jacqueline

    Your commentary is fair but I’d go a step further and say if a brand/organization doesn’t want to be “accused” by the media, it probably shouldn’t be doing anything in the first place to draw that type of attention. I feel it almost always comes down to transparency. I’d say lack of transparency is what ends up killing so many brands (or at least ruffling their feathers). Be upfront, do good for humanity and the rest will follow.

    Reply
    • Lou Hoffman

      If only it was that simple.

      Is Kaspersky in bed with the Russians?

      Does Apple ensure that the workers within their supply chain have safe conditions?

      Is Google adhering to proper business practices in the EU?

      Lots of gray areas and points of views; hence, the punches.

      Reply
  • Weekly Links & Thoughts #129 | meshedsociety.com

    […] Companies Increasingly Punch Back at the Media (ishmaelscorner.com, 2) Companies that act as their own little media entities and that show up with their rebuttals to critical media articles right next to it on Google News are becoming the new norm. […]

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