Duping the People Through Public Relations – Tin Foil Hat Time 14

The Article

You know the drill.  A company does the most hair-brained thing ever, heaps embarrassment upon itself, and then issues a press release to assure the world that the company has not lost its ever-loving MIND!  In many cases, it was a low level guy who has indeed gone astray and the company fixes the issue, but every now and again public relations releases are a smokescreen for nefarious purposes.  Let’s examine the difference!

Cooky Marketing Gone Terribly Wrong

In 2015 we saw some fascinating ads from a popular brewery suggesting that the word ‘No’ should be removed from your vocabulary, but not to be outdone, Bloomingdale’s suggestion of date rape was more blatant than merely removing the word ‘No’.  These are examples of bad marketing, much like Microsoft’s attempt to ‘jive’ with the younger interns by trying to send a message bang-packed full of trendy lingo.  In each of these instances, the company issued a press release and corrected the situation.  These stories make for funny face-planting, sometimes are harmful, but generally are stamped out quickly and quietly.  We can forgive these missteps because companies can make mistakes, some marketing people go too far, and many corporate review policies are merely rubber stamps allowing this type of marketing to happen.

When Things Really Go Wrong

Samsung found itself in a bad place with the Note 7 release, but they failed worse in their failed PR attempts.  The best thing they could have done would be issue the immediate recall for a battery replacement, but they waited for the last possible minute to do something about the defective exploding phones causing major property damage.  Samsung eventually cited poorly designed batteries as the root cause of the defect.  In their case, the PR releases were not very heartfelt and the refunds came too late, particularly because you enter a binding arbitration agreement for using the Samsung phone.  It does turn out the whole mess with Samsung occurred because they rushed the phone release to beat the iPhone 7 to the market.

And Ignoring the Reality

I recently recorded a video about Microsoft’s knowledge of a major security bug in the Samba servers in all Windows versions, but after five months, they still have not patched the exploit.  Even at this time I am not sure that the patch has been issued, but the vulnerability was made public because the discoverer was sick of Microsoft not patching serious exploits.  Even though Microsoft has not patched the bug, they did issue a press release:

Windows is the only platform with a customer commitment to investigate reported security issues and pro-actively update impacted devices as soon as possible … We recommend customers use Windows 10 and the Microsoft Edge browser for the best protection.

This is ridiculous considering the exploit is not related to either Windows 10 (which is vulnerable) and Edge (this is not an Internet exploit).  Rather than have a company representative tell me how important I am to them as a customer I would just prefer the vulnerability to be patched.

What is Public Relations?

At its heart, Public Relations is marketing.  The goal of marketing is to convince someone to use your product by excessive exposure.  As we are exposed to a message we start to believe it, so when a PR firm starts to make a repeated message appear in front of our eyes, particularly on various platforms (television, Internet, radio, etc), they can convince us to believe their message irregardless of the truth.  Ultimately, Tin Foil Hat Time is a place to think through the issues and to seek the facts, and not to be too concerned with the message the corporate people are feeding us.  Public Relations, when done correctly, merely tells us facts, corrects errors in judgment, and makes sure the public is aware of the true actions and intentions of the company.  But sometimes no one is fooled by what public relations says.

Don’t be fooled by press releases, but read them.  Consider what they say and why they are saying it.  Recall that mistakes happen, so we need a degree of grace, but we need not believe everything we here.  Put on your hat and keep your eyes open!

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