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Parting the Curtain

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Here’s a little something I came across last week. Edelman Public Relations sent Peter Rost at BrandWeekNrX and a bunch of other folks a press release under embargo. In a post, Peter explained that while some of his “fellow” journalists sang directly from Edelman’s sheet music, he decided to sing a completely different tune.

No surprises there -- sometimes journalists just slightly rejigger press releases and claim them as their own articles.

But Peter’s post -- which described how the story was pitched -- got me thinking again about how nothing is sacred any more. We’ve seen internal GOP message points circulated on the internet, a candidate’s confidential image assessment splashed across the pages of the nation’s newspapers and many blogs openly discussing the complex dance of developing, reviewing and approving official statements.

Just as the Wizard of Oz was shown to be a humbug once who was really responsible for his awesome visage was revealed, the reputation of public figures -- and organizations -- will crumble if people feel that this image has been carefully managed and manipulated -- and doesn’t match reality.

That’s why it’s not only important to speak clearly and candidly, but also to provide perspective and useful information in an open and transparent way. Particularly in an age when how the story is developed, served-up and disseminated is a matter of public discussion.

As I’ve described before, sometimes there are limits to how much info can be provided. For instance, though there were a several posts on JNJBTW that described our position in our dispute with the American Red Cross, there came a point when there was not much more to say since this case is now working its way through the courts.

What’s great is that transparency cuts both ways -- and the media is also fair game. A real “aha” moment for me on this topic came last year when I saw a presentation on how General Motors took on the New York Times and revealed all the hoops they were told to jump through in their attempt to get a letter to the editor published. (BTW: Ray Jordan, who runs my department describes his thoughts on this event on his blog.)

Just like Mr. Rost provided insight into the mechanics of PR, how the news media works doesn’t have to be a mystery any longer. Hallelujah.

For instance, I think about the time a former colleague of mine worked with a reporter at the New York Times for many months on a story, providing loads of information, only to have his response boiled down to a few lines about how the company had declined repeated requests for an interview.

Or the many, many times that reporters come to me at the last minute for a comment but only have a little “slot” for my perspective. (Something that makes me want to scream “What???!!! Don’t tell me the story is already written!!!”)

Hey -- there are good, solid reporters, bloggers and writers who work out there. But it’s nice to know that when confronted with some of the more outrageous behaviors, quirky rules or outdated approaches, it is now acceptable to pull back the curtain and point them out.

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