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Pr Fail Communications Public Relations (PR)

FT columnist Lucy Kellaway was right to call out Hewlett Packard Enterprise's pushy PR – and the rest of us should follow suit

By Andy Oakes, MD and Founder

February 8, 2016 | 4 min read

Anybody who has been around the media scene for a while will have laughed out loud if they read Lucy Kellaway’s piece in the FT today. In it she calls out Henry Gomez, head of marketing and communications at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. It seems Henry was a tad miffed by Kellaway’s reporting of remarks his boss (Meg Whitman) made at the recent Davos Economic Forum.

In an email to Kellaway, Gomez wrote: “FT management should consider the impact of unacceptable biases on its relationships with advertisers.”

Kellaway goes on to send an open reply to Gomez which I’m pretty sure has not gone down too well in the corporate HQ of HP. She says that as he attacked her aggressively, she would reply in kind and in public. And isn’t it brilliant she has done so? It’s time this particular favourite tactic of overly sensitive marketing directors is highlighted

I’ve been in media for over 22 years and have received my fair share of mails like this (although to be fair, in the early days I’d get a strongly worded letter or even a fax). I’ve been accused of having agendas against certain companies, fixing ranking charts, favouring competitors and my personal favourite, wearing a shirt in the corporate colours of a competitor whilst hosting a conference panel.

What was common to all these rants was the threat to pull advertising spend or sponsorship. The other thing in common was that there was never once a shred of truth in any of the allegations. Not back in my early days on Property Week, not in my time at Informa or NMA and certainly never at The Drum.

The other side of this tactic is the ‘we won’t spend with you until you write about us’ line. Irrespective of whether we have the right audience, irrespective of whether we are the right editorial vehicle, irrespective of anything except the thrill of seeing your company’s name in print.

It’s particularly important that we highlight this at a time when the concept of ‘Church and State’ is being questioned. Let’s face it, most media owners wouldn’t survive without branded content, sponsored content, native ads etc. Most media owners work hard to stay within the guidelines laid down by ISBA, the IAB and the various Cap codes. And I can tell you from personal experience that The Drum’s editorial team work incredibly hard to bring you fair, balanced, informed and honest coverage of our industry.

So, inspired by Lucy Kellaway and the spirit of an open and fair debate, I’ll make you this pledge. I will name and shame the next company or agency that tries this line with us. I also call upon my counterparts at the other industry titles to do the same. Let’s give the likes of Henry Gomez the publicity they so desperately seek although not perhaps in the way they might have wanted.

Andy Oakes is head of content and managing director at The Drum

Pr Fail Communications Public Relations (PR)

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