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wikileaks publicityWant the media to pay attention?

Offer a compelling story.

Want the media to really pay attention?

Deliver a really compelling story.

I get this concept.

But to say Julian Assange dominates the headlines because WikiLeaks is a world-shaking story shortchanges Mr. Assange’s PR savvy.

As Reuters pointed out, Assange “has masterfully manipulated elite media outfits.”

Digging deeper, Assange applied a communications technique that eludes 90 percent of PR professionals.

This forum isn’t to debate whether Assange is a superhero, villain, or wannabe hacker with a pasty complexion. Put this to the side and consider his communications strategy.

When he decided to expand WikiLeaks’ public profile by releasing the mother lode of classified information, he deviated from the status quo.

Typical PR thinking would have shotgun a news release out to the world with a pointer to the digital treasure trove of governmental pillow talk.

More is better.

That’s not how Assange maximized the communications impact.

He did just the opposite.

He created scarcity, not abundance, by offering access to only four publications: Le Monde (France), El Pais (Spain), The Guardian (the UK), and Der Spiegel (Germany).

Call it a geographic exclusive with each publication enjoying first-mover status with the readership in its respective country (The Guardian shared the information with The New York Times which covered the United States as well).

The upshot –

Knowing they had “exclusives,” these five publications funneled enormous resources to the story that never could have been rationalized with a level playing field. According to The Associated Press, 120 journalists from the “big five” ploughed through the material.

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, these deep and intense stories propagated until they were everywhere.

What can the PR profession take away from this exercise, Grasshopper? (Channeling David Carradine.)

Your client or company is sometimes best served by a few or even one quality story rather than numerous “parachute” stories.

It does take a different mentality and obviously more work (three stories for nine publications versus one story for nine-plus publications).

But the payoff comes in genuine storytelling that fortifies the company’s brand.

One more perspective on Assange that I find amusing –

A first-person narrative in The Independent explains what it was like to hang with Assange before he turned himself in to the British authorities. Right before he steps into the public spotlight, check out what was going on:

Sue and the other friends start discussing his statement.

Statement?

I suppose there are times when even the leader of WikiLeaks needs to stay on message.


Comments

  • Sarah Lafferty

    Hi Lou. I broadly agree with your assessment that Assange’s PR strategy was a smart one, but his political bias meant that he ended up essentially preaching to the converted. The publications he chose were, to varying degrees, left of centre and already likely to already have a sympathetic readership. For Assange to have really made a *difference* he needed to execute something much more ambitious: to influence the hearts and minds of those whose opinions naturally run counter to his own. He had a genuine opportunity to do this by targeting publications that are just right of centre, like the Economist, many of whose readers he could have appealed to due to their libertarian views that place a high value on free speech, democracy, laissez-faire systems and transparency. By cherry-picking typical left wing media outlets associated with ‘liberal elites’ Assange unnecessarily alienated many powerful centre right moderates. So he had the right idea, but by failing to understand human nature and perhaps craving adulation too much (which I believe are his Achilles heels) he has probably blown his big opportunity to effect real policy change.

    Reply
  • Lou Hoffman

    Sarah,

    Have to say your comment is more interesting than the original post.

    Thank you (genuine, not sarcastic).

    You know better than me the appeal of the Le Monde, El Pais The Guardian, and Der Spiegel.

    It seems inevitable that the publications not brought into the inner circle are going to be cranky (or worse).

    But it also seems like they got over it and spread the story far and wide.

    Even The Economist paints a balanced if not pro picture of Wikileaks in its initial feature, “How Wikileads embarrassed and enratged America, gripped the public, and rewrote the rules of diplomacy” (Dec 2, 2010). Equally revealing, The Economist pulls content from the New York Times into its blog posts on topic.

    Still, you might be right.

    Did he blow his big opportunity to effect real policy change?

    We’ll need to revisit this question in six to 12 months for the answer.

    Reply
  • Sarah Lafferty

    It sure is fascinating Lou and you’re absolutely right that we’re going to have to wait 12 months to find out what the impact will be. John Humphreys from the BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme interviewed Assange this morning, so have a listen to the clip. His live interviews are very revealing in that he communicates more than what he says. I can’t help speculating about his personal motivations and psychology having studied him a great deal now. All Megalomanics in world history share a few significant traits. The first is a lust to achieve power by personally creating ‘the best for the most people’ with the disclaimer that in achieving this you have to ‘break a few eggs’ to make the omelette. The other is a very dysfunctional childhood characterised by neglect and abuse. The third is an extremely high intellect, with almost no emotional intelligence. Julian Assange possesses all three traits, which is why on the one hand I feel sorry for him but why I also predict that he will ultimately inflict more conflict and suffering than he prevents. So let’s see what the next 12 months brings. It’s one of those situations where I really, really hope to be proven wrong.

    Reply
  • Lou Hoffman

    I’ve put December 1, 2011 in my calendar as the timeframe to revisit this topic.

    No doubt plenty of fodder will have accumulated by then.

    Reply
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  • Agnes Vega

    I’ts almost time to revisit this post. I’m awfully interested in what you have to say, after a year.

    Reply
  • Lou Hoffman

    Thanks for the reminder Agnes.

    I’ll do some digging.

    Hopefully, something surfaces more interesting than fighting extradition.

    Lou

    Reply

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