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Microsoft's new PR blitz uses press like sock puppets

Comment Leak and learn
Thu Nov 10 2005, 10:55
IS ANYONE GETTING SICK of the new Microsoft stealth PR campaign? More importantly, is anyone getting sick of how the media is lapping it up without question? I sure am. To make matters worse, it is so effective that the spinners are using it more often with each passing week.

The problem for Microsoft is that its grand PR prognostications are usually met with howls of laughter from from both the washed and unwashed masses. Remember: "We won't ship XP till it's bug free", "SP2 will solve your security problems", and "we just noticed that the Internet is there?"

Yeah, it has been losing credibility with each flapping of the gums.

So what do you do if you are a megacorp that has lost the masses? Slide your PR in through the back door with an astoundingly simple but astoundingly effective campaign. That is just what Microsoft is doing now with an alleged "leak" mysteriously emerging. Sadly, the press is eating it up, parroting back every word without question.

Remember how much play the Microsoft and SCO leaked memos got? How about when an MS staffer "wrongly admits" something he shouldn't? Those tend to be really worthy stories. Microsoft noticed this, and its admittedly brilliant PR team uses it for its own goals.

It works like this. If a Microsoft spokesman says it, great, it tends to get laughed off. If a credible reporter says it, more importantly if they 'discovered' it, it tends to have the credibility of a reporter. Now if an Open Source "enemy of all things good and capitalistic" raises the alarm bells, then it just has to be true, right?

Bill-gates MS has taken to 'slips', 'admissions' and 'leaks' in ways that it 'really should not have' done. The reporter pounces, and the Microsoft spokesperson gets all defensive and asks that it not be published, blah blah blah. Memos leaked to the right people have a similar effect, as do blog entries as a first line of press knowledge. Few things work better than a grass roots spreading of 'facts' that the mainstream press 'notices'.

Few PR efforts or change of direction come in press releases any more, they all come from blogs and leaked memos. The people who pick the stories up and grassroots spread them tend not to mock as much as the real press. Those that do can be easily laughed off by real PR as the lunatic fringe. Basically, Microsoft is using the boggosphere to do its PR for them, and we are supposed to be the pawns.

The saddest part of all this is that the mainstream press is eating it up as round two. All the big boys from Cnet to the Wall Street Journal are parroting back the latest round. Microsoft mission accomplished and it's much easier that way.

Microsoft has a huge PR problem with Google and lag in a poor second place. Google is the golden child, while Microsoft is the tottering giant with a bad attitude.

So, Microsoft leaked the latest Bill Gates memo to a credible source, and it went up. The conversation went from the usual howls of derisive laughter to 'oh-oh, they are turning on a dime again, what are we going to do to counter this?' Bad PR never got legs, and the message it wanted to get out had legs before anyone even thought to question it. It played the press like a violin.

Remember the "we turned Vista around in a couple of weeks' story from a couple of months ago?" No one seemed to ask the question why they could redo the entire thing in less than a year, but couldn't get it out without cutting more than half the features. Never mind that several people with source code access almost wet themselves laughing.

Microsoft's PR campaign is brutally effective, and is turning what used to be an investigative press into a bunch of sock puppets. Next time you see a leak, unauthorised blog entry, or candid admission, at the very least, remember who you are dealing with and question it. It may not be a case of 'you can tell they are lying, their lips are moving'. And we have to be ever vigilent and avoid being unknowing patsies of a cleverly thought out campaign. µ


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