During the last week of 2006, when things were slow on Wall Street, I spent some time surfing around the web, playing public relations detective for my company. I was on the lookout for two things: 1.) people or companies infringing on our copyrighted material, and 2.) people writing things (good or bad) about my company. What I found should send public relations professionals to their search engine of choice immediately, just in case they think no one is writing about (or stealing from) their company or clients.
Because my company publishes content — newsletters, articles, and research notes — it is imperative for us to ensure that our copyrighted material is not being republished without permission. The main reason is that most of our content is available only to paying customers, thus the free distribution of our content hurts our bottom-line. The other big reason is that we want to make sure that our content and brand are not showing up on web sites that we don’t want anything to do with.
In my search, I found our content republished on some rather dubious web sites. Someone who was convicted of violating federal securities law republished one of our articles without permission. Meanwhile, another article appeared on a site run by an organization convinced that everyone on Wall Street is a criminal. These are not the type of web sites that any public relations professional wants their company associated with.
The worst transgression was a web site that had simply lifted our marketing material. I used a rather simple technique whereby I grabbed some marketing phrases from one of our web sites and plugged them into a search engine. Our marketing material, I found, had been stolen wholesale by one of our new competitors. This was bad, I thought. What if a prospective client went to compare the two products and thought we were the thieves?
Cease-and-desist letters — I wrote my own based on a template I found online — did the trick in all of the above cases, and I intend to monitor the offenders regularly. Unfortunately, policing my company’s image proved more difficult than policing for copyright infringement.
On websites, blogs, internet message boards, and newsgroups I found a number of instances where people said negative things about my company that were completely inaccurate. These were not cases of me disagreeing with someone’s opinion; these were cases where people did not have their facts straight.
For example, one blogger accused my company of being a “major spammer.” I contacted the blogger and told him the facts — that he got us mixed up with another company. The blogger, to my delight, was very receptive. He apologized for the mistake, corrected the original post, and published a new post in which he apologized and set the record straight.
Elsewhere, I found an internet message board where some people were complaining about one of our products. Other people were defending our products, but the complainers were louder. I noticed the complaints, which were posted under different user names, all sounded very similar. I posted in the thread, which was two months old, hoping to address the complaints. This got the thread kick-started again, and soon the complainers were back.
In the end, I figured out the complainers were really one guy who was mad at my company. The end result is that I shut the guy up by apologizing and giving him a complimentary subscription to one of our products.
As I walked the beat, I found a number of items that I was able to correct or have removed, including:
— Inaccurate information regarding the pricing of my company’s products.
— A MySpace page for one of my co-workers that mentioned our company name, and included a lot of comments about beer-drinking.
— Wikipedia entries that misquoted one of my co-workers.
— A blog that posted a story about my boss’s old company and suggested that my boss still works for the company.
— Internet message board postings about another company we have nothing to do with, but which people thought was owned by us.
— A resume for someone who worked for us for two weeks, and where the person lied about his tenure with us.
Not everyone who wrote inaccurate or nasty things about my company was willing to fix their errors, or keep an open mind. I was, however, able to clean up more than 70 percent of the “image offenses” that I found. I think this is a pretty good success rate. There will always be inaccurate, misleading, or wrong-headed information about you or your company out there. You can minimize these instances by being proactive in your public relations strategy and policing your company’s image.
This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.