Corporate PR

Kristine Kathryn Rusch has a nice post today about not getting all wound up by all the corporate news and controversies that either don't actually apply to you or is stuff you could manage if you weren't so busy freaking out. Her prescription, unsurprisingly, is: Get back to work!

Like me, she used to be a business reporter, and she mentions something that I think people sometimes don't understand: When news comes out about a company, it is almost always coming either from that company or from that company's business rivals.

Not always: Sometimes it's stuff like earnings reports, which are required and regulated by the SEC. Other times it's coming from the District Attorney's office or the FBI (those are always the good ones). But companies themselves generate a HUGE quantity of press releases, studies (Miracle Whip causes actual miracles!), surveys, announcements, anniversaries, awards, etc., etc.

Oftentimes this stuff looks or sounds really important and worthwhile, but it's not--it's coming from the company's marketing department (or an "independent institution" that was founded, staffed, and housed by the company's marketing department), and it was developed to generate adventageous coverage for the company. Such coverage could help knock down a rival, or it could help a company sell an asset, or it could just goose sales.

A big part of a business reporter's job is ignoring all that crap. You look up the SEC filings instead of relying on press releases; you don't publish the dodgy studies. But it takes a lot more effort to generate stories from reliable sources than it does to be a shill for corporate America--companies will even send you story outlines to "make your job easier" (because your job is apparently doing their marketing department's work for them). And it's not like nobody falls for the bait: You'll get something like that, you'll toss it, and then you'll see that exact story appear in a respectable paper that should do better (yes, New York Times, I'm looking at you).

Nowadays with the Internet, this stuff is readily available to normal people. You can subscribe to Large Company's press releases, and you can spend your time reading Web sites and blogs that just cut and paste the text from those press releases into another format and call it news. So it's wise to be skeptical, both of the quickie Web news sites and of the respectable papers--if you don't think a story like this wasn't more than half written by a corporate PR department, you are very naive.