Machiavelli works at Waggener-Edstrom

The Long Tail: The Microsoft Memo: Some choose radical transparency, some have it thrust upon them

A good buddy and former journalism colleague called and said, “Dude, check out TechMeme, and look at the b.s. being slung about the Microsoft memo.”

Here’s the elevator summary: Chris Anderson, Wired’s editor, blogs about how Microsoft’s PR firm, Waggener-Edstrom “inadvertently” sent an internal memo discussing how Wired’s reporter, one Fred Vogelstein, was working a story; in fact the current cover story on the new trend towards corporate transparency.

Two points and then I’ll shut up.

1. PR firms are paid to profile reporters, anticipate their questions, know their biases, and study them like E.O. Wilson studies ants. The “oh my” reaction to this practice is complete naivety. This isn’t J. Edgar Microsoft.
2. Coincidence that the company that now personifies corporate transparency because of the ground broken with its corporate blog policy, Channel 9, and the ineffable Mr. Scoble, would happen to be the one “inadvertently” releasing an internal PR memo on that same story? I think not. Look at the buzzfest and I have to send a huge attaboy to whoever came up with the move … I salute you.

Here’s what Mr. Anderson wrote:

“…Yet the old company culture is not gone, as evidenced by an executive briefing memo from Microsoft’s PR firm, Waggener Edstrom, that Vogelstein was inadvertently sent in the body of a scheduling email. At nearly 6,000 words, it’s an amazing document and a telling counterpoint to the laissez-faire spirit of the open blogging initiative. Because it so aptly illustrates the parallel open vs. closed cultures that now exist at Microsoft, as in any big company trying to evolve a command-and-control messaging process to an out-of-control age, we decided to post the whole thing online in the spirit of transparency.

The memo coaches the executives on what to say and what not to say. It talks about Vogelstein’s interviewing style and possible biases (also how he’s “tricky” and “digs for dirt”–the memo cautions the executives to avoid certain paths and to watch out for traps). Here’s an example (emphasis in the original):

“”He is digging for tension where it does not exist. We have to be hard core on this point and communicate in no uncertain terms the level of executive commitment and support for Channel 9 and 10 [Microsoft’s videoblogging efforts]””

On a personal note, it’s kind of freaky to read the memo describe how I was wooed (even manipulated, if you want to think of it that way) into commissioning the piece”

On another note, Fake Steve Jobs is demanding outraged nerds flock to their local newsstand and buy up all the copies of this issue to protest the placement of a nekkid lady on the cover.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

0 thoughts on “Machiavelli works at Waggener-Edstrom”

  1. This is interesting. Depending on where you stop penetrating the layers, changes who you think is pulling the strings and how deep the “manipulation” is. This is like the plot of a fairly good con movie. Maybe I come away with the conclusion that the PR firm helped to leak the doccument to create controversy (your point#2). Everyone else is just operating and reacting to the layers on top of that, where other people stopped to make their arguements.

    But, say for a moment that it is true that there is diversity of opinion within MS about social media efforts. Some cling to the previous PR / Analyst, press release model, while others want to take it to the streets in blogs, forums, etc. Doesn’t this dichotomy perhaps exist in most companies that weren’t born on the web, or deal soley in media / content?

    How does one drive change within the company? A view I encountered yesterday over diner, was that as long as the web and communication execs “get it” then all is well. I submit that it is more difficult if the awareness and participation is limited to the organizations that are formally charged with implementation.

    I’d be a proponent of an “imersion” experiences outside executive’s normal disciplines. Send your financial, services, supply chain, even IT execs to a social media forum / convention. Having them see & hear first hand about the ways in which companies are getting close to their customers through blogs and forums, could accelerate change.

  2. Or give them all blogs and wikis and tell them not to shoot their toes off ….

    Sorry. You’re right. Too often I subscribe to “lead the horse to water” model and don’t feel like evangelizing what I feel is obvious. Sort of the same mindset I took in 1994 when I told the biz dev guys at Forbes that they were morons to do a Prodigy/CompuServe deal when the Web was coming. I wound up managing the CompuServe project (and eventually got the website), but I should have spent more time educating and less time being “change agent.

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