Wall Street Press Tactics
Today, when I read The Washington Post piece, "Scaramucci learned his press tactics from Wall Street. They’ll only get uglier.," I immediately recognized the tactics of some of my former bosses.
"When a negative report was in the works, company representatives often called up the journalist writing it and tried to ingratiate themselves with a charming introduction and some light chitchat. The point was to humanize the people at the firm so that journalists would feel guilty reporting negatively about it. (This almost never worked.) Maybe they’d invite the journalist to an outing — a bank-sponsored tennis game, a classical music concert — or a party held by the firm to get the journalist 'in the fold.' When a piece was in process, they’d follow up daily, trying to get a sense of who the journalist’s sources were and the direction of the story. The key at this point was to keep their enemies close."
"If the full-court press failed, the next step was usually to call the reporter’s editor and complain that the subject didn’t feel he or she was getting a fair shake. The point was to undermine a reporter’s support within their organization, with a view toward neutralizing their reporting."
"When charm didn’t work, I saw or heard about firms wheedling, pleading, threatening, calling editors and even contacting media executives. Insults and obscenities were common."
Though, I have never been in a situation where, as a professional we went to these crazy lengths:
"And sometimes companies go much further. Hewlett-Packard paid a private investigator to go through the trash and the personal phone records of one of my former colleagues, Pui-Wing Tam. Overstock.com’s CEO created a fake Facebook account and sifted through the social networks of dozens of journalists and analysts, alleging that they were conspiring to lower his company’s stock price. A senior executive at Uber once suggested that the company compile opposition research on journalists who wrote critical stories. Microsoft once broke into the Hotmail account of a blogger while pursuing the source of internal leaks."
Part of me suspects that no one who has ever met me thinks I would be willing to be part of this type of ridiculous, unprofessional, unethical behavior. Certainly, even though I've had colleagues yell and scream and swear at reporters writing unflattering articles, no one ever turned to me and asked me to carry out this kind of tactic - again, probably because every ounce of my being exclaims that I'm just not going to do that.
This article does make it appear that providing background information to someone going into an interview is creepy, and I take issue with the way this is presented:
"Every journalist who covers Wall Street knows that banks keep tabs on them, sometimes spoken of as “dossiers,” though they’re nothing fancy: reporters’ articles, backgrounds, editors, potentially revealing comments they may have made to the bank’s communications team. Financial firms have multiple people picking over journalists’ past work, looking for a word or phrase that could be interpreted as biased."
This sounds nefarious, but should be routine for any PR person prepping any expert having any interview (journalist, industry analyst, influencer, etc.). I have always prepared experts I'm working with with background information on a reporter - the articles they've written, their professional background, what school they attended, any POV they have presented - any public information that may help make the reporter feel more like a human to the person being interviewed. The reporter has done their homework on the person they are interviewing, why would the person being interviewed not have the same preparation?