Trylon Communications  - March 2005

Making News

It’s one thing to get the press to write a story about you. It’s entirely different to write the story yourself and have it published as a third-party narrative. The credibility of the story, the publication, the editors, and your company are at risk. Federal agencies have found that out the hard way, and a blanket warning to them from the Government Accountability Office last month should be a warning to everyone. According to a recent NY Times story (see here), over 20 federal agencies have developed and deployed hundreds of “news reports” over the last several years.

Trylon recently reported how video news releases can be a deceptive form of story placement if proper disclosure is not made. The GAO, Congress's investigative arm, has now warned the administration and associated agencies that this practice violates Federal law - and has issued a very clear “cease and desist” order.

In today’s world of “get press at any cost,” marketers must be extremely careful to not overstep the line between PR and “making news.” The GAO’s comptroller general said in his letter to agency heads, "While agencies generally have the right to disseminate information about their policies and activities, agencies may not use appropriated funds to produce or distribute prepackaged news stories intended to be viewed by television audiences that conceal or do not clearly identify for the television viewing audience that the agency was the source of those materials."

This warning should hold true for marketing executives of any company looking for public recognition. While in the private sector it is not illegal to produce your own news stories and try to get them on the air, it is certainly problematic. If you are caught (and in today’s world that’s almost a certainty) you can be excoriated and get the opposite of what you want – bad press is not good press.

In these cynical post-Enron and MCI days, the public is extremely conscious of how information is fed to them. Hiring a reporter to fake a news story is not PR, it’s mercenary advertising. Plenty of legitimate and ethical ways exist to get your company in the news without having to resort to unethical means.