A journalist scorned
Safe to say, Henry Gomez has had better weeks. Annoyed at how Financial Times colour writer Lucy Kellaway had ridiculed his CEO’s words of wisdom at Davos last month, the communications chief at Hewlett Packard Enterprise put pen to paper, expressing his dissatisfaction at such treatment of an esteemed business leader. He concluded with a thinly veiled threat that such behaviour might affect future ad spend in the pink pages.
Ms Kellaway didn’t take kindly to this rebuke, and promptly disclosed his letter and her no-nonsense response in Monday’s FT. She wasn’t holding back. The FT’s editorial, she’d have us know, is never swayed by ad bucks, and anyway, Gomez would surely be breaching his duty to HPE’s shareholders by withdrawing spend deemed to be in the best interests of the company for the sake of simply showing a hack who’s boss.
Most PR practitioners have been there. A client is miffed at how their brand has been mistreated by the fifth estate. Sometimes it’s justified, sometimes it’s just them being a bit too precious. Either way there’s a dilemma for the PR professional caught in the middle. Kellaway laments the fact that years ago such dilemmas inevitably led to a cordial lunch with the CEO, whereas nowadays they are mostly met with silence.
In my experience, the crisis is typically an opportunity in disguise. Often the journalist will have gone a bit too far, without factually misrepresenting the client brand. In the Kellaway case, her jab at the HPE boss was a bit mean, a bit petty, but was mitigated by her customary tongue-in-cheek style that won’t have influenced the reader’s view of the brand one iota.
Hold fire. The client will want a retraction. The journalist won’t. Far better to suggest a right to reply, or, if the perceived misdemeanour is less clear-cut, a separate piece of editorial in the future that benefits the client without requiring a comedown from the journalist. Chances are the reader won’t have been nearly as sensitive to the offence in the first place, and a positive article will be a considerable net gain for the client. Or maybe make your point, and just be nice about it. In the midst of adversity, your understanding might even win you an ally in the media, as opposed to an enemy, as is clearly the case here.
Given the job he’s in, I’m sure Mr Gomez has lots of ink at his disposal. Next time, he might be more careful about how he uses it. Sorry, couldn’t resist it.