THINKPIECE: Learn to harness the Internet as a vehicle for the truth and rise above ’bad’ client publicity

Not that he’s asked my opinion, but Mayor Rudy Giuliani would be well advised to ignore a new Web site (www.yesrudy.com) even though The New York Times calls it ’one of the most sophisticated’ attacks of its kind. The site is a fiendishly deceptive parody of the Senate candidate’s official site, www.rudyyes.com. Even the most skeptical visitor will have to read deeply into what purports to be a letter of welcome from the mayor himself to learn, for example, that he proudly supports an economic program that ’increasingly focuses wealth in a few million white hands.’ (And it’s downhill from there.)

Not that he’s asked my opinion, but Mayor Rudy Giuliani would be well advised to ignore a new Web site (www.yesrudy.com) even though The New York Times calls it ’one of the most sophisticated’ attacks of its kind. The site is a fiendishly deceptive parody of the Senate candidate’s official site, www.rudyyes.com. Even the most skeptical visitor will have to read deeply into what purports to be a letter of welcome from the mayor himself to learn, for example, that he proudly supports an economic program that ’increasingly focuses wealth in a few million white hands.’ (And it’s downhill from there.)

Not that he’s asked my opinion, but Mayor Rudy Giuliani would be

well advised to ignore a new Web site (www.yesrudy.com) even though The

New York Times calls it ’one of the most sophisticated’ attacks of its

kind. The site is a fiendishly deceptive parody of the Senate

candidate’s official site, www.rudyyes.com. Even the most skeptical

visitor will have to read deeply into what purports to be a letter of

welcome from the mayor himself to learn, for example, that he proudly

supports an economic program that ’increasingly focuses wealth in a few

million white hands.’ (And it’s downhill from there.)



The Giuliani for Senate campaign will be in good company as it tries to

figure out how to respond, if at all. New rogue web sites are appearing

every day, designed to aggravate the more sophisticated supporters of an

organization or cause, mislead the unsuspecting and turn off the

undecided.



As these sites crop up, their presence poses vexing questions for

corporations, non-profits, trade associations and government bodies as

well as political candidates - and the PR firms that represent them.



Wild allegations can zip through cyberspace with mind-boggling

speed.



Major search engines can scan only about a third of all web pages,

unfortunately, and do-it-yourselfers see far less. Having discovered

that they can’t do the job properly in-house, many companies are turning

to monitoring services.



Giuliani can consider himself fortunate in this respect. At least his

people know what is being said about him. A lot of candidates, causes

and companies are flying blind, and once they do discover some

outlandish allegation, they tend to overreact.



Understandably steamed, they’ll want to issue an indignant press

release, which drives traffic to a site that might otherwise have little

or no visitors at all. By such responses, companies can give new life to

charges that, if left alone, would die on their own.



A savvier approach is to seize the initiative and create an attractive,

comprehensive web site, becoming the go-to source for any controversy

that concerns your company.



Above all, keep a sense of humor (which the mayor exhibits from time to

time ) and keep cool (which he doesn’t always do). Advise your clients

not to take criticism personally and explain to them the value of

knowing what the public - or some segment of it - really thinks.

Persuade them to allow their executives to be interviewed online, so

people come to them - and not to their critics - for the truth.



Alan Pell Crawford, a former Adweek columnist, is senior counselor with

Martin Public Relations in Richmond, VA.



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