I post from time to time about stupid PR tricks, but last night I had an experience that was a whole different level of appalling, for reasons of ethics and general incompetence alike. Within hours, the vendor’s CEO had emailed me that the offending PR person would be terminated this morning.*
*By the way, that means an intriguing New England startup needs a new PR firm. By tomorrow it should be obvious who I mean.
It started as an ordinary kind of bad pitch. The PR rep emailed offering a briefing with a mystery company. I immediately deduced that the company was one I was in fact set up to talk with today, and had indeed been writing about since 2009. Besides being annoyed that I’d had to scramble to set up my own last-moment briefing with a company I’d led the way in writing about, I also bristled at the fact that the pitch included quotes from a couple of my competitors, whom I shall unimaginatively refer to as Dave and Merv.* So far, no big deal.
*Both personally and professionally, they’re two of my favorites. Even so, I dislike being told that I should use them as authority figures to be copied in my own view formation.
But then it occurred to me that those quotes probably weren’t approved, but instead were just lifted in an unauthorized manner from conversations, and indeed probably didn’t reflect the analysts’ precise views. So I messaged Dave and Merv. Shortly thereafter, the PR rep emailed me:
Neither David or Merv have authorized the quote for publication. It was sent in error to you, as I had believed you had agreed to the sharing of confidential information.
The bulk of my response to that — and the essence of this post — was:
… there are quite a few problems with that response. You didn’t even tell me the name of the company you were writing about, let alone that the information was supposedly confidential. Indeed, by using the “if you agree to an embargo” formulation, you if anything implied that the contents of what you’d told me so far were non-confidential.
What’s worse, even if you had had assurances of confidentiality from me, your unauthorized use of Merv’s and Dave’s quotes was unethical for several reasons. Since you didn’t ask them for permission, you had no way of knowing whether those were their reasoned opinions — as opposed to, say, off-the-cuff comments or even a bit of flattery. Thus, you created the possibility of making them appear to hold opinions they in fact do not, which would be harmful to them, and also of giving me a false impression. What’s more, analysts can be picky as to who they give their opinions to, and what’s said to a company is not necessarily to also be shared with, say, one’s closest competitors.
It got even worse from there, e.g. when we figured out that similar unauthorized quotes had gone in email to the press, or that Merv had been explicitly asked for permission to use his quote (denied as per company policy). Such flourishes just make the incident even more epic in its awfulness.
And that, kiddies, concludes today’s class on how NOT to do analyst and public relations.