Yes, We Can Write Our Opinions Without Contacting The Company We're Writing About First

from the stop-telling-us-otherwise dept

This happens all too frequently. I recently wrote a short post about something that was apparently happening with YouTube and soon after received an angry email from a PR person at the company first scolding me for not contacting Google PR first and then demanding that I insert some PR babble paragraph that said nothing that addressed the key questions raised in the post in "response." This made no sense to me. If I got something factually wrong, I have no problem having someone point out what was in error, but demanding that I first contact them and then include a meaningless statement is ridiculous. If the PR folks have something to say, they're free to take it up in our comments.

It seems that Michael Arrington, over at TechCrunch, has run into something similar (and I'm sure it happens to him all the time as well). After briefly (really, in passing) mentioning the infamous Video Professor in his post on marketing scams, the company first tried to get him to post their response, and when he told them no (in less friendly words), the company instead complained to the Washington Post, who syndicated the same TechCrunch post (as it has done for a while with TechCrunch posts). The real issue, of course, is that The Video Professor didn't like getting called out on its marketing practices. The company is notoriously sensitive over its reputation and has gone legal on people multiple times in the past. At issue is the fact that people are told they're getting a "free" product, but don't realize they're really signing up to pay a lot of money if they don't follow the fine print carefully. Arrington called this a "scam" and plenty of folks agree. The Video Professor did not agree, but if that's the case, it has every right to clarify its own marketing material, rather than going after those who call them out on their less-than-clear practices.

But the bigger issue with these types of situations is that companies need to realize that just because someone doesn't like the way you're acting and states an opinion, on that subject, it doesn't mean that they first need to contact you or get a meaningless PR quote from you. You have a right to respond, but on your own website -- or within open comments if they're available (as they are on this site). For too long, companies have hid behind bland PR statements and the willingness of the press to "balance" stories with an accusation and a denial, but no real effort to get to the bottom of things. That's changing, and it's time that companies and their PR reps caught up to what's happening.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    william (profile), Dec 3rd, 2009 @ 9:32am

    PR people? really?

    Whenever you "demand" someone to do something, you effectively shuts down the conversation and decrease the chance of influencing others to do your bidding. The word "demand" or a carefully crafted letter with various legal threats just piss.people.off, like DMCA take down notices.

    If any of those PR ppl are reading this. Have you ever heard of good will?

    PR people, I thought you guys are professionals? How did you miss this negotiation 101? Or do you believe that you are powerful enough like the King of Ye Olde England who can behead anyone who has an opinion you don't like?

     

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  2.  
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    Hillary Johnson, Dec 3rd, 2009 @ 10:46am

    What publicists don't know

    As a journalist for 20 years, I've gotten my share of PR spam, and worked with a handful of publicists who were actually good at what they do. What does a good publicist do? A good publicist recognizes that their "clients" are actually the publications, not the companies. The companies that pay for PR benefit only as a result of the publication's editorial needs being met, and that only happens when the publicist offers the publication something that is genuinely helpful, having studied it and even, God forbid, asked the editor what kind of information they like to receive. In TechDirt's case, as Mike has said, the best approach may be to not approach at all, or to contribute in the way Mike has identified: by commenting. Leaving an intelligent comment on a much-read blog is pretty good PR any way you slice it, whatever the topic under discussion. Publicists who spam, harass and otherwise attempt to badger publications into writing about them should be fired. The only reason they aren't is that they're the ones telling the client what constitutes good PR. Sigh.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 3rd, 2009 @ 10:52am

    Just for good effect:

    Video Professor is a scam. Also this is hilarious:
    https://twitter.com/JohnWScherer

     

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  4.  
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    New Mexico Mark, Dec 3rd, 2009 @ 10:53am

    Re: PR people? really?

    It does seem ironic that these types of edicts would originate from "Public Relations" departments. I can understand that kind of nonsense coming from a soulless legal group. But Public Relations? Maybe they slept through their "Diplomacy 101" or "How to Win Friends and Influence People" seminars.

     

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  5.  
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    Ima Fish (profile), Dec 3rd, 2009 @ 10:56am

    This ridiculous "fairness" is the problem with "real" journalism. To be fair both sides are presented as equals in every situation, no matter how unwarranted one side might have been.

    There was a reason the Birther's movement was in the news for so long and it had nothing to do with any real evidence in support of it. But to be fair, their side was repeatedly presented by the mainstream media nonetheless.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 3rd, 2009 @ 10:58am

    Maybe the people who work for Google think they can do whatever they want?

    Wouldn't surprise me, Seibel people were the same way back in the late 90's.

     

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  7.  
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    Alibi (profile), Dec 3rd, 2009 @ 11:01am

    Same thing happened to me when I got my "free trial" of CigArrest. Next thing I knew, I was sent a six month supply (even though it promised to work in 30 days) and was charge $180+...pretty lame

     

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  8.  
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    NullOp, Dec 3rd, 2009 @ 11:03am

    Opinion

    It all boils down to "What we say is fact" and "What you call opinion is slander." The greater point is, businesses think they are ENTITLED to success without any accountability whatsoever.

     

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  9.  
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    John Mark Troyer, Dec 3rd, 2009 @ 11:07am

    On the other hand...

    On the other hand, especially if you blog regularly about the company and know somebody there, a quick email before publishing can often answer a lot of questions.

    I'm not PR but I am on the vendor side working with our bloggers, and I do my best to get back with a quick, non-obfuscated answer and hopefully make your piece better.

     

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  10.  
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    chris (profile), Dec 3rd, 2009 @ 11:15am

    did you know...

    that video professor raped and murdered a young girl in 1990?

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 3rd, 2009 @ 11:26am

    Re: What publicists don't know

    Which is fine, as long as Mike makes no claims on actually being a journalist or expecting any of the rights and privileges that come with being a journalist.

    This site is 100% opinion, and that also implies that much of what is written here isn't fact, just opinion.

    I'm good with that.

     

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  12.  
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    gojomo (profile), Dec 3rd, 2009 @ 11:31am

    'Right of Reply'

    Someday, you might have to provide those criticized with a 'right of reply', as has been seriously proposed in Europe:

    http://news.cnet.com/2010-1071_3-1017333.html

     

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  13.  
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    ChrisB (profile), Dec 3rd, 2009 @ 11:53am

    Re: Re: What publicists don't know

    > This site is 100% opinion ...

    What are you talking about? Of course there are facts. What are the posts commenting on, if not facts? This isn't a philosophical website.

     

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  14.  
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    CastorTroy-Libertarian, Dec 3rd, 2009 @ 12:04pm

    Re: did you know...

    Oh no, what a shame, why isnt there a law :)

     

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  15.  
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    The Groove Tiger (profile), Dec 3rd, 2009 @ 12:17pm

    Re: Re: What publicists don't know

    Wow, I suppose it's only Mike's opinion that Google's PR sent him a letter. Since Mike's not a journalist, it obviously cannot be fact.

    Hey, I just bought a new computer... wait, I'm not a journalist. It's my opinion that I just bought a new computer.

     

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  16.  
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    Lance (profile), Dec 3rd, 2009 @ 12:19pm

    Fair...fairness...fairness doctrine...other tripe

    There came at some point, in the "mind" of the general public, the notion that all journalism has to be unbiased and fair.

    Compound that notion with the idea that the only way to present things in a fair and unbiased way is to provide column-inches of news print, seconds of radio/television time, etc. in equal portions to all parties.

    This is the basis upon which so many of these PR folks tend to operate. They mistakenly believe that anything said in public must be "balanced" by the opinions which they have been paid to espouse.

    It is also the point on which those that support the so-called "fairness doctrine" laws preach. They hate that commentators, whether they be on the radio (conservative talk radio is populated by devils), the television (Fox News, and Glenn Beck in particular, are baby-eating Pro-Lifers) or the internet, are not required to present opposing points of view.

    When it comes right down to it, these folks all want to take away freedom of speech in the name of their idea of "fairness".

     

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  17.  
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    Sunshine Mugrabi (profile), Dec 3rd, 2009 @ 12:31pm

    Catchy headline but oversimplifies

    I have been on just about all sides of this--first as a tech journalist, later in PR, and now on the vendor side and as a blogger. I know it sounds like you're being bullied by PR folks if they contact you and ask that you listen to the company side of the story, but a good journalist knows he or she doesn't have all the facts at hand and is willing to hear more. If all you get is something irrelevant, then fine. But why be angry at them when they have something to say to you about the company they represent? Opinion pieces aren't immune from this. If Joe Nocera at the New York Times does one of his columns, he always reaches out to a company rep in advance of writing the piece. Oftentimes, the company rep will say something stupid that actually makes life worse for them (witness his interaction with Steve Jobs). But the point is that he's writing opinion based on real research. Bloggers are often accused of spouting virulent, attention-grabbing screeds. One way to avoid falling into this trap is to pick up the phone and talk to the company before slamming them. Just my 2 cents.

     

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  18.  
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    Yakko Warner, Dec 3rd, 2009 @ 12:52pm

    Two sides to every story

    A lot of stories are posted here that are told from one point of view, and while judgment is passed, someone in the comment will question or bring up a fact that was omitted that favors the other side and throws the whole situation into a new perspective.

    It's very typical for a journalist to at least attempt to contact the "other side" for comment to try and get the whole story. Sometimes they get a statement that's useful; sometimes they get PR double-speak. Sometimes, the other party "could not be reached for comment".

    I could see how a company that's used to that kind of journalism might be upset at not getting a chance to say anything from "their side" of a story. Not being allowed time on the stand (instead of just a comment after the fact) to speak to your own defense wouldn't be acceptable in a court of law, and the court of public opinion is often harsher in its consequences.

    I can at least see where they're coming from.

    Granted, trying to "demand" you publish a statement on your own opinion blog, and having that statement lack any relevance to the topic at hand, doesn't do them any favors...

     

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  19.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Dec 3rd, 2009 @ 1:20pm

    Re: Re: Re: What publicists don't know

    "Hey, I just bought a new computer... wait, I'm not a journalist. It's my opinion that I just bought a new computer."

    There is no spoon....

     

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  20.  
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    davebarnes (profile), Dec 3rd, 2009 @ 1:32pm

    Well, he has not denied it, but

    I am withholding judgment for awhile as I will give John W. Scherer a chance to deny that he raped and killed a young girl in 1990.

     

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  21.  
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    Overcast (profile), Dec 3rd, 2009 @ 1:35pm

    Please - make it illegal to post/write comments about business or products..

    It would put every single 'critic' out of business.

    None of this was an issue as long as some corporation could pay some newspaper to have it's 'critics' say certain things - is that right? Why is it an issue now?

    It's what food/movie/music critics have done for many years and built an entire career off of.

     

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  22.  
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    bubba, Dec 3rd, 2009 @ 1:37pm

    let's use the UK as a test...

    John W. Scherer raped and killed a young girl in 1990? i searched on google for this but didnt find anything...

     

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  23.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Dec 3rd, 2009 @ 1:52pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: What publicists don't know

    The cake is a lie. At least I think it is, I'm not a reporter so I don't know.

     

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  24.  
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    fishbane, Dec 3rd, 2009 @ 2:22pm

    Re: Re: What publicists don't know

    I'm glad you're good with your opinion. However, you're also wrong.

    I don't know what Mike claims as far as being a journalist (I can guess, but I'll refrain from doing so here), but I'll say that I'm a journalist. I've only been professionally published a couple of times, and don't earn my main income as a talking head, but trying to distinguish, somehow, between who is and who isn't is attempting to shut people up, especially when tied to talk about "rights and privileges".

    If you want people to shut up, say so. A free country, and all that. And I'll retain my right to call you a promoter of tyranny.

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 3rd, 2009 @ 2:24pm

    Re: Re: What publicists don't know

    An opinion can still be about the truth.

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 3rd, 2009 @ 2:27pm

    Re:

    The balanced approach emerged mainly out of on television when entertainment providers bought up all the news outlets.

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 3rd, 2009 @ 3:09pm

    Re: Re: Re: What publicists don't know

    "that also implies that much of what is written here isn't fact"

    Opinions may or may not be facts (ie, you have an opinion that is true).

    You guys must be bored.

     

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  28.  
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    question, Dec 3rd, 2009 @ 6:34pm

    Is it true

    Is the video professor a rapist and murder? Did John W. Scherer rape and kill a young girl in 1990?

     

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  29.  
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    Phil, Dec 4th, 2009 @ 12:14am

    Google has a PR department?

    I'm a technology columnist for a San Diego daily newspaper. I've never heard back from Google PR the half dozen times I've contacted them for comments or their side of a story. That rarely happens with any other company.

     

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  30.  
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    Mike, Dec 4th, 2009 @ 4:31am

    Re: did you know...

    Nice! Gotta love Gilbert Gottfried: http://bit.ly/gilbertgottfried

     

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  31.  
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    Carl, Dec 4th, 2009 @ 10:00am

    Rather you didn't contact them than put the usual comment "A company spokesman did not immediately return calls asking for comment", which is unbearably smug and precious and somehow implies that spokespeople are just there to answer the phone to hacks. I'm sure even spokespeople have meetings and other legit reasons for not snapping to attention when a hack calls for a comment.

     

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  32.  
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    Gene Cavanaugh, Dec 4th, 2009 @ 11:38am

    Opinion pieces

    Case in point. This is only your opinion, but to me it is important - I value your opinion. It is also short.

    The trivia about some "artist" doing "something" (I didn't read it, of course) was REALLY long!

     

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  33.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2010 @ 6:52pm

    Re: 'Right of Reply'

    They have that right, here. To reply within the open comments. Blah de blah blah blah.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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