Taser hastens comms efforts as media scrutiny continue

SCOTTSDALE: Taser International's seemingly nonstop crisis control program continued last week, now aimed at countering reports in the national media that the stun guns have been shown to cause heart damage to animals in tests.

SCOTTSDALE: Taser International's seemingly nonstop crisis control program continued last week, now aimed at countering reports in the national media that the stun guns have been shown to cause heart damage to animals in tests.

On February 10, CBS News aired a story that detailed an Air Force study involving multiple Taser shocks on pigs. The animals were found to have enzyme levels indicating damage to the heart. The story quickly spread across the newswires, and Taser's stock fell 4% on the news.

Taser's in-house communications team immediately issued a press release disputing the implications of the CBS News report. It cited two doctors who serve as company "advisers" who called the enzyme levels "minor, commonly observed" elevations.

"When bad information like this airs on a major news outlet, you are temporarily on the ropes chasing ... dozens of news reports using the [phrase] 'according to CBS News,'" said Taser VP of comms Steve Tuttle via e-mail. He said the company's quick response and use of third-party testimony "has ultimately stopped the flow of bad information to some degree."

CBS News stood by its story, citing physicians' analysis. Since 1999, 86 people have died following Taser shocks, but the stun gun has never been named as the primary cause of death, according to CBS.

Also last week, the Chicago police department halted plans to purchase 200 new Tasers after an area man died following a shock. Tuttle praised the police department for "not jumping to conclusions."

Public Strategies, which Taser has used for crisis communications in the past, did not respond to a call for comment.

Taser's stock price has proven to be closely tied to the company's media coverage and currently hovers under $15, a hefty drop from the $33.45 high mark it hit last year. "Our battle is clearly in the media and not the marketplace," Tuttle acknowledged. "While I am busy in the reactive stage of media coverage and crisis management, we are actively pursuing a means in which to be proactive to help us get ahead of the media curve."

Last week, a Massachusetts police chief allowed himself to be hit with a Taser blast at a news conference to demonstrate how safe the devices are.

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