Media battles are nothing new. Back in the ’70s Nixon famously said “the press is the enemy,” and kept a list. But up until relatively recently, most have opted not to pick fights with those who buy ink by the barrel.
This seems to be changing. In the past week alone, Donald Trump said nasty things about Fox News commentator Megyn Kelly to anyone who would listen, following her tough questioning in the first Republican debate. And just yesterday, news broke about Tinder’s very public Twitter tirade over less than flattering coverage in Vanity Fair (see this Digiday piece; I love Jordan Valinsky’s line “Tinder made it clear on Twitter that it doesn’t handle rejection very well.”)
Have the rules of media engagement changed? Or were these dumb moves?
Yes and maybe.
First, the rules clearly are changing. Executives and politicians traditionally relied on communications teams to run interference with the media. When there were concerns over coverage, the reporter was politely taken to task or asked for a correction – again, behind the scenes. If all else failed, a letter to the editor or opinion piece could set the record straight.
These things seem quaint today. Now, celebrities, politicians, company leaders, and yes PRs can and do vent on Twitter, Facebook etc. Sure, media still usually have the biggest megaphones, and you need to be really, really careful about picking fights with them. But using public channels to engage and sometimes disagree is an option which should be considered, and sometimes used.
Donald Trump’s lead seems to be growing with every outburst, and many Republicans have little love for the media. Yet, some say that this latest episode was a mistake, given Megyn Kelly’s standing with conservatives. The departure of his trusted advisor Roger Stone is one sign that Trump may have gone too far this time.
Like Trump, Tinder seems to relish an irreverent image. I doubt that their business or brand will be hurt much by this episode. Even so their reaction (which they admit was an overreaction) make them look thin skinned and amateurish.
Two years ago I wrote that Elon Musk of Tesla used his blog to angrily rebut a negative New York Times review. I asked back then: “Did he break some basic rules of PR – or are he and Tesla fans tapping some of the new rules? Was Musk’s rebuttal a shrewd defense of the Tesla brand?”
The rules clearly are changing. But the stakes are higher and margin for error is less. The communications team has the responsibility to heed this and act accordingly. We can make a situation better or worse. I’d like to think we are the ones standing between the drunk and text messaging – and not the ones sending angry, ill advised messages.