Editorial: Gates’ pity play is poor PR strategy

It may well be the end of the world as he knows it, but Bill Gates still feels fine.

It may well be the end of the world as he knows it, but Bill Gates still feels fine.

It may well be the end of the world as he knows it, but Bill Gates

still feels fine.

Clearly, Gates’ defiant public stance following the federal government’s

whupping of Microsoft - ’common sense stands on our side’ - evinces

Texas-size denial about the effect that Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson’s

ruling will have on the public perception of his company. Yes, many

consumers won’t think anything less of Microsoft so long as their

Windows-driven computer works in the morning. But the PR challenges that

lie ahead for the company in the wake of the court decision are


Shareholders, who saw the company’s market capitalization fall by nearly

dollars 80 billion in the hours before the ruling was released, will

probably want more than a pat on the hand and a ’keep your chin up’ pep

talk. The company’s employees will have to be assured that one of the

suggested possible outcomes (the government splitting Microsoft into

three separate companies) will not affect their job status. And then

there are those who live in and around Washington state, where 40% of

the company’s stock is concentrated - Microsoft may well find itself

being questioned for the first time by this core of loyalists. The

company’s PR minions, ranging from the Waggener Edstrom folks to the

in-house team to the all-star BSMG and Edelman squads in DC, clearly

have their work cut out for them.

Perhaps the problem is a combination of arrogance and self-pity: despite

its size and market domination, the software colossus still seems to

view itself as the little guy, unfairly targeted by know-nothing

technophobes who seek to destroy what they can’t control. If this is the

image that Microsoft continues to put forward, whether intentionally or

not, the company will soon find itself teetering even more precariously

on the edge of the PR precipice.

VCs don’t know diddly about PR

This week’s feature (p26) explores the symbiotic relationship between PR

agencies and venture capital firms. What we find is that this

relationship has evolved past a cozy ’I scratch your back, you scratch

mine’ association to assume some more troubling dimensions.

One certainly cannot argue with the practice of VC firms channeling

clients towards their favored PR agencies: after all, it underscores the

paramount importance that the hi-tech industry has bestowed upon PR. But

does it disturb anyone that VCs sometimes encourage clients to ditch PR

agencies they are perfectly happy with, or that VCs are becoming the

arbiters of what constitutes good PR for a start-up? We all know that

measuring PR results is a dicey practice - does it make it any easier to

have an impatient venture capitalist enter the mix?

One VC says, ’We are very proactive in getting the right PR for our

companies,’ but who is a VC to say what is the ’right’ PR? How many

press releases equal one blurb in the Industry Standard? A PR pro would

never be so bold as to say what the ’right’ level of funding is. PR

firms and VCs may be in bed together, but we’d rather it lead to PR pros

becoming CEOs than VCs grabbing the marketing reins.

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