I’ve been a journalist for 16 years. In that time I’ve been on the receiving end of PR pitches for the advent of the VCR as well as the advent of the video software business, both of which revolutionized American business. In those days the clamor for media attention was intense. But now I have another yardstick to judge it by, and that’s the advent of the Internet.
I’ve been a journalist for 16 years. In that time I’ve been on the
receiving end of PR pitches for the advent of the VCR as well as the
advent of the video software business, both of which revolutionized
American business. In those days the clamor for media attention was
intense. But now I have another yardstick to judge it by, and that’s the
advent of the Internet.
The onslaught of aggressive PR tactics in this business is nothing short
of amazing. The pressure brought to bear on journalists minimizes
anything I’ve seen in other industries. I’m impressed. But I’m equally
unimpressed with the ability of PR pros to stem the tide of bad press
about some of the Net’s high-flying companies.
Amazon is the best example. I suppose if you worked in the Amazon PR
department the day you heard your boss was going to be Time magazine’s
’Person of the Year,’ you popped the Dom Perignon and figured life could
get no better. But now Amazon and a slew of other dot-coms have been
tarred by Wall Street’s fickle brush. Most of the time the press
coverage has been one-sided and shallow in its understanding of Internet
valuations, growth projections and business models. Why can’t the spin
doctors spin this perception around?
I have some suggestions:
- The press needs to be reminded that in most cases, the business goals
of dot-com companies are being achieved. Stock prices don’t seem to
follow business performance in this space at all. A dot-com can announce
exponential increases in sales and revenue, but because Wall Street
wants to see profits ahead of time, the press takes the Wall Street cue
and paints it as a failing company. PR pros need to portray difficulty
more as a Wall Street betrayal and less as a failing business model.
- Find the good news analysts. Some companies and PR agencies don’t
provide names or even companies for analysts that are more positive
about its financial status. I’d rather write a balanced story featuring
an intelligent positive outlook to balance the momentum that negativity
in this business seems to breed.
- Find the right numbers. Numbers are thrown around in this business
with less care than The Rock treats an opponent in the ring. The PR
faction needs to understand the inner working of profit and loss. For
example, I know that Priceline beat all estimates with its last-quarter
earnings but I don’t know what segment of its business was the star.
Even if a company has bad metrics to report, there’s usually a story to
watch out for.
- Find more sources. For some reason Internet companies like to direct
all their press contacts to one or two people. I’d like to develop more
marketing VPs as sources. More brand managers. The CEO has to impress
Wall Street in this space, and that means Main Street is often
- Be aggressive. Seriously. PR efforts are very aggressive when there’s
a new product, but why aren’t they aggressive when there’s some bad
financial news? Does that mean the marketing department has folded the
tent? Focus on things that are happening. New companies aren’t launching
with the same frequency anymore. You may have to work with the roster of
companies you have, so get deeper into what they’re doing. What they’re
not doing is becoming the story of the day, and that shouldn’t be
- John Gaffney is associate editor of Revolution. He can be contacted at