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October 26, 2009
Guerilla Tactics in Vancouver and a Poorly Labeled Report

Boy, here's a PR bollix. Don't ever e-mail in this manner, and don't become so perversely "tactical". Also, realize that something else is happening with this item.

First, the bollix (blunder): Janet Steffenhagen of The Vancouver Sun, tells what occurred when she called the University of British Columbia for information on seemingly non-controversial early childhood development data that the university had previously released. She got a helpful response from Michele Wiends, the communications director, but moments later came an unhelpful, unfortunate e-mail from another communications staffer, Maria Loscerbo, that was evidently sent to Janet by mistake.

"Here's my suggestion," Loscerbo's e-mail read, "nobody should return Janet's phone call until we decide what to do -- Janet will probably try to call Clyde first, then Paul and Joanne."

"Let it go to voicemail, or if you accidentally answer the call (Janet works from home so her actual name should show on your call display), simply say you're 'not available to talk right now and will get back to her'. Get her coordinates, and call me. Then we plan next steps, ideally schedule an interview with Clyde for Monday."

"Michele didn't release any new EDI data – only background info that has already been published so we're okay."

There so much wrong with gamesmanship like this, but basically it's the sort of thing that gives PR a bad name. It's not clear what Loscserbo thought she was doing, but it was decidedly unhelpful to all concerned, including the university, which is presumably a public institution.

When a reporter calls, ask her what she wants, and assure her you or someone else who has the information will get back to her promptly. Period. It's that simple. When we give folks "communication" titles, sometimes they act as though they're guerilla gatekeepers, which negates the very idea of respectful, collegial communication.

Enough for the PR bollix. What else is happening in this report? It wouldn't occur to you unless you've seen Janet's actual post, but its Web format doesn't indicate whether the item is from The Vancouver Sunitself or its blog. There is a grayed linkpoint -- "Report Card" -- at the top that takes you to "Report Card -- An in-depth look at the B.C. education system." But what's that? Janet's blog, or a Web label for her education beat, or simply for her typewriter in the newsroom or at home or something else?

This may very well be where information is headed, to Web (URL) release points without much concern for its actual point of origin. If so, it's unfortunate. Under the new media approaches, there ought to be emerging agreement that the point of origin should be identified, in this case, a newsroom or a reporter's blog. Doesn't information need some form of institutional identity to help in evaluating it?




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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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