How Microsoft and Waggener Edstrom create stories

PR

Update 3: This story is now on both techmeme and Slashdot.

This morning I came across a great article on the Wired blog network. Fred Vogelstein, a journalist for Wired, writes about how he got hold of a dossier on himself, produced by Microsoft and their PR firm, Waggener Edstrom. Chris Anderson, Wired Editor in Chief, has also posted his comments on the story as have Waggener Edstrom President Frank Shaw.

I have been in several interview sessions with both Swedish and American journalists, and have learned both from experience and smart PR people that this is the way it works. Not only for Microsoft but for anyone that strive to control the message, or simpy get his story out.

That’s right. It’s all about stories. It’s where it begins, and it’s where it ends if you’re successful.

The material produced by Microsoft’s PR machinery is impressive, but not jaw-droppingly exceptional. We did just as extensive research on the journalists involved when the most successful articles that I was part of were planned. If you want to tell a story, you’d better tailor it to the audience if you want it to become a story that they’ll want to tell others later on. A press-release is the opposite of this, more often than not resulting in no story at all, or worse – a story concieved by the journalist instead of yourself. Manipulation? Not really. It’s about being proud of what you do and wanting to tell the story.

Back to the “dossier” in question. You can read it here. It’s basically a preparation of an interview, a followup after it’s done and a discussion on how to proceed. The preparation is the “juicy” part, containing a thourogh background on Fred Vogelstein and Wired Magazine. What really catches my attention isn’t that, though, but rather the very nice follow-up on the interview at the beginning. This is just as essential as the preparation – analyzing what went well and what went worse and how to go forward, is just as important as meeting the journalist in the first place. This is where I learnt the most about myself and the press.

There is a common misconception that stories are created by newsagencies, papers and journalists. While true in many cases, reality is that most stories are merely told by them. Somebody else created the story, and that somebody certainly have their own agenda. Most of us know this, but we all tend to forget it whenever we read a juicy story in the news. One of the keys to good PR in news media is to learn how to create the story, and how to tell it to the journalists in an engaging way. Sometimes this involves “planting” it over the course of days, weeks or months before the actual interview. Sometimes it’s more spontaneous.

I can see how the release of this information may reflect badly on Microsoft, but in my opinion this “dossier” is a good example on how to do effective PR for news media. I’d say that it’s pretty similar to the preparation and follow-up meetings I’ve had with the PR folks before and after interviews, with the notable difference that it’s in written form. Reading technology press I often see stories that would’ve been orders of magnitude more interesting if the one with the agenda had done a better job, much like Microsoft did in this case. Just take a look at the end result of their efforts.

What surprise me the most in this “dossier” is that they’ve misspelled Lenn Pryor’s name, and that he is described as being “scared” of the Channel 9 initiative. That’s not really the impression I’ve got of Lenn, but then again I’ve never actually spoke to him directly, I’ve just been reading his blog since ages.

News is all about stories. Journalists loves them, as do readers. Most good journalists actively search for stories, and being able to let them find yours is not bad. It’s what makes successful news media PR.

On another note: Waggener Edstrom sounds vaugely Scandinavian. Makes me wonder about the history of the company…

Update: I noticed that Robert Scoble made a comment over at the Wired blog, stating that he’d never been briefed my PR department before doing Channel 9 or blog posts. Blogging is a completely different beast compared to what we are talking about here. Starting a conversation with customers is essential, and this just won’t happen through news and magazines. That said, news is news even if it is a blogger blogging them – crafting a story is as relevant as it’s ever been.

Update 2: This story has showed up on techmeme.

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4 Comments on “How Microsoft and Waggener Edstrom create stories”

  1. sunsmey Says:

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  2. sunsmey Says:

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  3. Your comment that “There is a common misconception that stories are created by newsagencies, papers and journalists. While true in many cases, reality is that most stories are merely told by them. Somebody else created the story …” is only partly true.
    There are basically three sources for all news:
    1. NEWS EVENTS that are either naturally occurring or relate to human activities, such as the Tsunami in Indonesia or the war in Iraq;
    2. ENTERPRISE NEWS, so-called because enterprising journalists take the initiative to dig it up or seek it out; and,
    3. CREATED NEWS that occurs because a person or group does something public and newsworthy and/or seeks press attention.
    Yes, there is a real craft to “creating news,” which all of us in the p.r. world know can be done very legitimately or can be in a very dodgy way (no comment here on Microsoft and the dossier!). But, generally, even when it comes to created news, the story must meet certain fairly defined criteria for “newsworthiness” in order to interest credible journalists.
    Ultimately, the reporter/editor/blogger serves as a ‘gatekeeper’ for what actually runs or not in their print or online publication. Which is one of my ‘gripes’ about the cavalier use of the word ‘placement’ among p.r. professionals. It’s arrogant and smacks of hubris to assume that a story runs because one ‘places’ it, as though the journalist/blogger had no decision-making role. If agencies would say they ‘obtained covrage’ or ‘secured coverage’ of a story when reporting to their clients, it would be a more honest assessment of the role of p.r. in getting their clients’ news in print.


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