Comms advice for key players in Microsoft's bid to buy Yahoo

Staffers at PRWeek, like the professionals in the industry we cover, often laugh at general interest and business publications' misuse of the phrase "PR disaster." Often, the disaster is financial, organizational, or occupational; PR is the manner in which a business tries to clean it up.

Staffers at PRWeek, like the professionals in the industry we cover, often laugh at general interest and business publications' misuse of the phrase "PR disaster." Often, the disaster is financial, organizational, or occupational; PR is the manner in which a business tries to clean it up.

That said, I can't help but use the phrase when I think of recent moves from the major established brands in the tech industry: one large PR disaster.

The most pressing and interesting story in the industry is Microsoft's seemingly desperate bid to acquire Yahoo, exacerbated by Google's paranoiac claim that a Yahoo-Microsoft merger would stifle competition. I am not alone in this opinion; in fact, it is greatly informed by virtually every pundit out there. Of course, true to form, Slate.com published the obvious contrarian piece, calling Microsoft's bid "brilliant." Yes, Microsoft has valid claims: the acquisition will reduce redundancies and the combined entity will, theoretically, be stronger to face Google than Microsoft currently is. Those sorts of points get lost when every scribe sees panic in the acquisition offer.

While Microsoft and - through its histrionic complaints - Google both seem to think this maneuver is a guaranteed success, nearly no one else does. We're still many months away from any definitive decision on the proposed acquisition, but that means this is the perfect time to do some armchair marketing analysis.

Microsoft: Assuming it still wants to proceed with the acquisition, the company must address specifically how it plans to turn the integration of Yahoo and Microsoft into a Google competitor. If it decides to merely play it as Yahoo strengthening an existing strong brand, the sound heard will be derisive laughter. That's not to say that Microsoft or Yahoo are not strong brands - they still are. But Yahoo is not in a particularly vaunted state currently. Microsoft would be welcoming folly if it conveyed that it planned to run Yahoo as a completely stand-alone company.

Yahoo: Given its subservient nature in this action, Yahoo can't convey much. Media reports have characterized Yahoo CEO Jerry Wang as being indecisive about the bid. But if executives should find themselves in briefings with reporters, they should follow the similar path of talking about the hypothetical benefits of a combination with Microsoft.

The meme about Yahoo beforehand was one of trouble. Defiance about the company's ability to be a powerful entity without the bid - while perhaps true - will fall on deaf ears.

Google: The media has doled out plenty of chiding over Google's initial reaction. Paranoia, disingenuous, and ill-conceived are some phrases used by the press. It made Google appear the underdog, which, since everyone knows it is not true, made them seem afraid of competition. The firm should keep its public comments to a minimum or, conversely, boast about how the combined company would still fall short.

Silicon Valley pundits are prepared for a glorious show. There will almost certainly be losers in the court of public opinion. The question is, will anyone win?

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