Let me tell you a couple of stories. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.
There was once an athlete who was great at training. He could thrash his personal bests, decimate the opposition and make his peers believe he was a superman.
On the day, he was a mess. His diet was wrong, he had no idea what the opposition was planning to do or what they did in any particular situation. So he did what everyone else did. He hired a coach and started to perform infinitely better. Perfect planning prevented a piss poor performance.
Now let me tell you about a successful exec at a big company. He was a high flyer with all the trappings of his success. He moved product, he brought in huge customers, he innovated and he was subject to many media interviews.
But then he got fired.
He got fired because he was interviewed by a hard nosed reporter. Wearing a dirty mackintosh, with a fancy hat and asking the hard questions. Questions that the executive wasn’t expecting. He was expecting easy, softball questions. He got those at the start but at the end he was asked some really, really tough, probing questions and instead of deflecting them and moving onto safe ground, he took the journalist on. And lost. He gave up the next big product in the pipeline.
Because he wasn’t prepared. Piss poor preparation lead to a less than perfect performance.
The cautionary tale behind these stories is that perfect planning prevents piss poor performance. When on the sportsfield or in the boardroom, you should always, always be as prepared as possible. If you’re meeting a sales prospect you do your research. If you interview someone for a job, you do your research. If you interview someone for your blog, you do your research and if you are being interviewed by a major magazine you damn well do your research.
Of course, you may not actually mean you. If you’re the busy executive it may mean your communications team and your PR agency. An agency that does their homework and provides a thorough level of situational reporting in the form of a 5,300 briefing document.
You can read the full memo along with Fred’s post about the rather strange sensation of seeing a file on you. Chris Anderson, Wired’s editor, gives his thoughts while Waggener Edstrom president Frank Shaw also weighs in.
So what happened? As far as I can tell, a relatively junior (account manager or below) PR was asked to keep track of the story arc behind a planned feature from Wired that included a number of interviews with various Microsoft spokespeople culminating in an interview with Charles Fitzgerald, Microsoft’s general manager of platform strategy. The memo was subsequently sent, by accident to Fred himself.
The memo reveals a number of things. First, that Microsoft likes its execs to be prepared. Second, that Fred’s reporting style is extremely thorough. Third, that the Waggener Edstrom PR inflated their role in the situation. Fourth, the article process takes a long time. Fifth, Fred can take a while to get his questions out. So please be patient. Sixth, PRs are very bad at email.
No big surprises there…right?
No one was manipulated. The story was conceived during a conversation Anderson had with Fitzgerald way back in 2006. He commissioned the article and Vogelstein was assigned to write it. The PR agency gave the Wired reporter access to any number of resources he needed. He made up his mind on what angle to take and at all points was able to speak to other non-Microsoft sources. And he did.
Conclusion – same same but different
While the indignation is totally out of perspective, and probably due to a very rare glimpse behind the proverbial curtain, the agency is guilty of a number of things. One, being very bad at email. Two, asking to see the copy ahead of print time (Anderson assures everyone that no one is allowed to see copy before it goes to print) and three, over inflating their own self importance. It seems to me that they did a great job in shepherding an article from conception to publication through a very long and arduous process. As my friend Mathew Ingram says about the symbiosis between the reporter and the PR:
Sometimes that relationship is a pitched battle, sometimes it’s an arranged marriage, and sometimes it’s a dance. A PR firm has to be equal parts marriage broker, dating service, DJ and (in some cases) spook. ‘Twas always thus.