This week's publishing of a fake press release in the US and UK about General Mills by PR Newswire raises fundamental questions about the procedures and checks carried out by information distribution services before they send out items on their networks.
In today's 24-hour media environment information spreads like wildfire and the bogus release, which suggested President Obama had ordered an investigation into General Mills' supply chain, was briefly picked up several media outlets and Google's news service.
General Mills uses rival Business Wire to distribute its communications releases, which makes the occurrence even stranger, although some of its PR agencies do use PR Newswire.
Presumably the hoax was carried out late at night in the belief that it would be more likely to get through the security environment or checking process at that time of the night, which seems to have been the case. But surely systems should be bulletproof at any time of the day in a global news environment.
It was only the diligence of General Mills communicators, presumably alerted by calls from the media, which led to the “release” being withdrawn quickly by PR Newswire.
Strangely, in some ways the incident has actually turned out positively for the food manufacturing giant, which has used the publicity to emphasize that it is performing really well at the moment.
PR Newswire says it is “not at liberty to discuss anything further because there is an investigation pending with the SEC and possibly law enforcement officials.” It says it maintains “stringent editorial procedures and safeguards” to protect against hoax releases. Clearly those procedures fell down on this occasion.
PR Newswire, and all distribution services, must make sure this doesn't happen again to retain the confidence of its clients.