By the way, as far as I can tell, everything in the memo is accurate. I also think the executives were very well served by the document; they did indeed stick to their message and they got pretty much the story they wanted. This was also, as it happens, the story I wanted – or was it just the story I thought I wanted because I was so effectively spun by Microsoft's PR machine?While the fact it got out might be a little embarrassing, the memo is something Waggener Edstrom can show potential clients to demonstrate its doggedness – no, obsession is a better word – with prepping an interview subject while shaping a message. Here's a snippet of what it says about Vogelstein:
Fred can be a little tricky in interviews. He looks deeply for any dirt around whatever topic he is focused on and generally is tight lipped about the direction he will take for his stories, sometimes even misleading you to throw you off. It takes him a bit to get his thoughts across, so try to be patient. Be careful not to lead him down a path you would prefer to avoid. He is generally friendly, knows Microsoft quite well, and tends to start off his discussions with softball questions, but they progressively get deeper and deeper until he unearths something he finds interesting. Be careful of his approach.I gotta say, this sounds like every reporter I've ever worked with, including me, but still, I wish someone would prepare me this well when I go to conduct an interview. But reading this, Vogelstein wrote in a sidebar to the Microsoft story, made him feel "peculiar." "I know my long-windedness drives my wife nuts occasionally," Vogelstein wrote. "I didn't know it had become an issue for Microsoft's PR machine too." Seriously, though:
But it seemed clear from the memo that there were close to a dozen other people involved. Some transcribed the interviews I conducted; others kept notes on my every utterance for clues about what questions I might ask next and ultimately what my story would say; others briefed executives with questions I had asked and suggested good answers. Indeed, if you read the memo closely it's clear that my experience with Microsoft on this story was their end game. For something like six months prior they had been plotting to get Wired to write a story about Channel 9 and had dispatched three executives to meet with editors at the magazine in hopes of setting their hook.
Should I be flattered that they worked so hard, or should I be embarrassed at being co-opted by their spin machine? I'd like to think I would have written the same story no matter what. But now, through the miracle of transparency, you, the reader, get to decide that too.Incidentally, if you want to know how a P.R. firm manages its own bad P.R., read this.
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