Thursday, June 17, 2010

PR wire mishap

It happened again. A fake news release went out. This time, the victim was General Mills. As reported in today's The Wall Street Journal, the fake release erroneously said President Obama was investigating the cereal maker's supply chain.

Although PR Newswire acted quickly to instruct journalists to disregard the fake release and said it was sent out by an "unauthorized user," the incident is another reminder that hackers and pranksters still operate and are waiting to pounce or pull a fast one.

The stakes are huge. Market share can decline. Reputation is temporarily affected, requiring huge amounts of time and money to calm nervous investors and stakeholders. See here for an example of stock decline when a fake release went out.

Attacks can occur in many forms, but "fake news" seems to be a route of choice. And, despite the best controls added after each one, loopholes are found and folks just let their guard down. We like to think ALL news outlets verify information sent to them, but it doesn't happen. Rumors run rampant online, particularly with blogs.

Public relations pros are aware of these potential attacks. Instant monitoring services that send alerts to your cell phone are a great tool to "stay on top" of breaking news about a client, industry or issue.

Interestingly, this fake release went out after midnight, possibly on the hunch that those who may be monitoring the news would be asleep.

However, most international companies are generally prepared 24/7 with teams and individuals around the world under clear instruction to notify superiors the second they hear or suspect trouble. If your company doesn't have this fundamental crisis communication system in place, the General Mills incident provides a nice poke to get going.

Also, don't rely entirely on technology, such as alert systems that scan the Internet for key words. A "human" backup system is always a good bet, especially if a rumor reaches someone via a phone call or, gasp, in person.

So, here is the BW item. (Business Wire was either quick to issue a "security" response or just lucky a message to its members was already in the works.) Interestingly, there is no message on PR Newswire's site, as of this morning.

A Message From Business Wire CEO Cathy Baron Tamraz

June 2010

Dear IR professional:

We are aware that the competition for your business has never been greater, and that some companies may be confused by the cacophony of conflicting competitive claims.

To help you navigate through this minefield of misinformation, Business Wire would like to focus on the two most important reasons clients use a newswire: disclosure and distribution.


Business Wire is all about full and fair disclosure. Our patented news delivery system, NX, ensures simultaneous, real-time distribution of material news to ALL market participants.

Further, our security, redundant technical systems and operational procedures are audited annually by world-class accounting firms in multiple jurisdictions, providing for 24/7/365 delivery. We are proud that our proven disclosure model continues to provide the greatest transparency possible, with equal access for institutional and individual investors alike - always using the latest web-based technologies.

Several competitors have recently launched do-it-yourself filing systems. We view this as a disaster waiting to happen. With nearly 200 editors in 21 newsrooms worldwide, we authenticate and validate our members, vet copy for accuracy and legitimacy and catch countless client errors, particularly on market-moving earnings releases.

The coding, keywords and meta-tagging (XHTML) that we add to each release are critically important in how copy is processed by advanced search engines, enterprise IT systems, algo traders and databases. These sophisticated systems filter and route copy based on complex criteria, providing for maximum release visibility, and conforming to the international standards of the IPTC (International Press Telecommunications Council), a global consortium of major news and information services.

Disclosure is too important to leave on auto-pilot; there is no substitute for human intelligence in the handling of material news. With Business Wire, there is a complete audit trail for each news release - every step of the process has a permanent footprint that can be retrieved in the event of unusual stock activity, a stock halt, etc. These safeguards are of critical importance in the event of legal or regulatory review. Equally important, with Business Wire, every step of the disclosure process is handled in-house for confidentiality and quality control assurance; we won't outsource disclosure.