When to Get Tough in PR, via the de Blasio vs. Cuomo Feud

Last week NY Mayor Bill de Blasio very publicly kicked Governor Andrew Cuomo to the argument-238529_1280curb. The NY Times reported:

… in candid and searing words… De Blasio… accused… Cuomo… of … personal pettiness, “game-playing” and a desire for “revenge.”

It was a highly unusual display of frustration and anger, rare for its tone and targeting of a fellow Democrat. The paper wrote three articles about the episode, including this piece, in which de Blasio’s press secretary Karen Hinton explained: “We felt we had nothing left to lose.”

According to the news story, the broadside was calculated, carefully timed and planned with his advisers months in advance.  But was it a smart move?  And what can we learn from it in the tech PR field?

The issues are complex, covering policy differences, and struggles over power and control. Clearly, the Mayor and his team felt backed into a corner, and believed that taking the battle public was worth the risk.

It’s too early to say whether it will work (the immediate response from the Governor’s team was a terse statement: “It takes coalition-building and compromise to get things done in government.” And, just today, AM New York  ran with the cover story Guv Hits Back – Cuomo to de Blasio: ‘You don’t always get everything you want; that’s called life’).

The episode begs the questions: should you talk tough to achieve your goals? When should you take your battles public?

The tech world can be rough and tumble too. It is famous for its marketing wars and FUD mongering.  A few years ago I wrote a post that explained how PR teams can stay clean when the fighting gets dirty. But that advice was about resisting the temptation (or client or employee orders) to act unethically.

It most certainly leaves room for some hardball – and I think PR can hold it’s head high while recommending or supporting an aggressive approach. Being in PR does not always mean playing nicely.

The media like to write about contests, and thrive on controversy and conflict. Throwing stones can be a sure way to get their attention and coverage.

If the press are not already covering the battle lines of a market segment, you can encourage them to do this – especially if it is in an exciting and rapidly evolving space that should be on their radars anyway.

You can trash talk the competition in interviews, and challenge them to a head-to-head bakeoff between the respective solutions.  You can mix it up on Twitter – like  the CEOs of T-Mobile and Sprint just did, see this story.

These tactics can work for companies seeking to upset the status quo and take market share and attention from the leaders.

There are risks, too, in poking the bear. You might be labeled an obnoxious hothead or worse. The leaders are usually much larger companies, with market power and deep war chests. They can fight back in a number of ways.

But there can be rewards. Startups need to take risks when trying to knock larger competitors off their comfortable perches. Like de Blasio, they might believe that the potential rewards outweigh the risks.

Tough talk and tactics have their place in the tech PR arsenal, and should not be ignored.


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