How Microsoft manages their press...
From Joe Wilcox and Microsoft Watch: Channel 9 Unwired
All companies work at managing their press. But apparently Microsoft takes press spin more seriously than I though. Wilcox covers a story written by Wired that didn't turn out quite the way Microsoft wanted it. And in the process, we were able to take a look at the man behind the curtain...
After investing executive time and PR dollars into handcrafting a story about increased transparency, Microsoft instead got a story more about radical evangelists bucking the system to push out transparency. Then there was the unwelcome surprise—learning that Vogelstein received the 15-page briefing file and seeing it dominate the closing paragraph of the Channel 9 story. Then on Monday, Wired chose to post the dossier online.
The Microsoft and Wagged blog response to the posting is most unsettling and reason for both companies to re-evaluate their blog policy. Ironically, the postings offer a kind of transparency into the PR tricks some companies use to combat bad news.
The dossier details other meetings, presumably at some expense to Microsoft, to evangelize new transparency around Channel 9 and employee blogs, including a trip by Sandquist to meet with Wired's editorial staff. Sandquist leads the Channel 9 and Channel 10 teams.
In the interest of shaping the story and, presumably, supporting the idea of greater transparency, Microsoft gave Vogelstein a fair bit of access to employees working for Channel 9, including time with the team during the Computer Electronics Show in January.
The dossier reveals how Microsoft and its PR agency attempted to set the editorial agenda for Wired: "We're pushing Fred to finish reporting and start writing" and "We will continue to push Fred to make sure there are no surprises."
In an e-mail presumably sent from Waggener Edstrom to a Microsoft executive: "Briefing for your call with Wired is below. We want to keep it short and not offer any new avenues to him—Fred has done plenty of reporting here and it is time for him to stop and just write the article."
There are notes on Vogelstein's interview style and even scripted answers to expected questions. Microsoft pitched the story and clearly had every intention of managing it to a favorable end.
This is a rare look at how a company "opens up" in such a way that the expected outcome is exactly the story they want to push. Something to keep in mind when you read a "pro-vendor" story. Just how much leading (or even downright pressure) did the journalist get to come to their "own" conclusions?
As with all forms of communication (press, books, magazines, blogs), remember it's buyer beware. Non-biased journalism is terribly rare, as everyone comes into the game with their own biases. That's to be expected. But coming in with someone else's slant presented as "the facts" is another story altogether.