Recently Gizmodo made a big deal out of the fact that Microsoft’s PR agency accidentally sent a reporter a copy of a briefing document that the agency prepared for a spokesperson who was about to do an interview with one of Gizmodo’s competitors. The clickbait-y headline – “Microsoft Keeps Dossiers on Journalists and Sent Us One By Accident” – makes simple meeting preparation sound like something akin to the surveillance tactics of the East German Stasi. It’s not.
The implied outrage is funny. Reporters often complain about interviewees who don’t know anything about the reporter’s beat, what they’ve written in the past or what their readers want. (These are all things we counsel our clients on before every meeting.) That’s why prepping a spokesperson for an interview falls somewhere between PR 101 and grammar school. It’s not just normal practice, it’s borderline malpractice if your agency isn’t doing it for you. Would anyone in any line of work go into a meeting without preparing? No? Well, it’s no different for interviews.
The alleged “dossier” was all of a page and half long and composed almost entirely of excerpts and insights on the reporter’s PUBLIC writings. No information on his pets, his Netflix queue, favorite Pokemon or Facebook relationship status. As “dossiers” go, pretty tame. Certainly not worthy of the apparent shock it inflicted on Gizmodo.
And, yeah, it was kind of a big mistake to send a briefing doc to a media outlet. But again, there’s nothing particularly sensitive (or even interesting) in the doc or the emails. Whoever sent it should probably get a stern talking to and then get sent to bed without dessert. But this is a little short of a Snowden-esque leak.
ProTip for media people: everyone you interview uses briefing documents. Everyone. This is a practice that’s as old as PR itself. In other news, water is wet.
Kevin Pedraja is a partner at Voxus. For more snark, er, insight, follow him on Twitter @kpedraja