100 million years ago I worked as an executive at a publicly held tech firm. We knew that in order to bury bad news (ie a poor quarter) we would send the release out at 4 pm on Friday. By the time Monday rolled around there would be two to three more days of news covering ours. Now more companies have become much more ingenious ways at burying their bad news – rather than addressing it properly. (For more on that, read my post on “Crisis Communications in a 2.0 World“)
Wondering how they do it? Here are just a few methods I’ve seen. Comment with more examples, please!
1) Flood the Internet with alternative messaging. Piling on the social media releases, blogs and Twitter posts can help bury a negative opinion or story quickly by using SEO. Studies show about 60% of Internet users click on a result in the first page. Keeping that page inundated with positive information – particularly if it appears to come from sources that are not your own – can easily bury negative opinions. I agree with the Online Marketing Blog, though, that using this to address a real crisis is not a long-term fix.
2) Bury it on a holiday. At the end of 2009, a story came out about Goldman Sachs selling mortgaged-based CDO’s to clients and at the same time selling the securities short themselves. Goldman Sachs supposedly made it quite hard for reporters to reach executives for comment and further blocked the story so that it came out Christmas Eve in the New York Times. Thereafter it’s received little press.
3) Make it impossible to fact-check the article. Although bloggers can write pretty much whatever they want, traditional media still needs to check facts in order to run with a story. Keeping CBS or as in Goldman Sachs “allegedly” keeping the New York Times from verifying aspects of a story can bury it too.
4) Divert the issue. Although most of the messaging surrounding the Toyota recall focuses on sticky floor mats, the real problem may be the pedal or as Steve Wozniak asserts, it could be a computer glitch. (If you haven’t heard, the Woz ‘s Prius gets stuck at 97mph while in cruise control) Although Toyota states there “may” be a problem with the pedal in its latest update, much of what we’ve seen in our media is concerning the floor mats. The Woz asserts its a software problem, not a pedal or mat issue. Since the main issue is sudden acceleration – something we haven’t seen in any of Toyota’s messaging – this is probably a good example of a diversion tactic.
5) Lie. It almost worked for Martha and it definitely worked for OJ.
Bottom line is that the organizations with true investigative journalists are dwindling. TV and print media no longer has the budget to spend months on uncovering stories ala Watergate. Companies have learned the game and crisis communications firms have become much more adept at the spin. And that could be a very bad thing for us.