Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Not Quite What He Wanted 

Sometimes one has to ask whether people think when they use the Internet. The Washington Post ran a story (subscription required) on the front page of its business section yesterday that makes one wonder.

It seems a small communications firm, called Rock Creek Creative, that does web design among other things had helped create a web site for Ukraine that featured the Orange Revolution -- a democratic uprising Russia strongly opposed. Rock Creek wanted to let everyone know how well it did so it issued a press release on PR newswire that boasted of its work and its impact on the democracy movement. PR newswire, of course, posts all releases on its web site.

The press release worked -- sorta. The Russian government spotted it and claimed that the CIA was influential in the Ukrainian democracy movement. The Ukrainians saw it too and were ticked off that an American firm was taking credit for their revolution. Finally, the client, The Global Fairness Initiative, a Washington nonprofit that hired Rock Creek to create the web site, saw the release and was upset. Apparently, Rock Creek Creative forgot a basic rule of the internet. Everything you publish is available worldwide -- instantly. Watch what you say.

The Washington Post actually wrote it better.

At a time when public relations firms have been under fire for obscuring their affiliations, the incident with Rock Creek stands as a cautionary tale of saying too much at the wrong time, particularly in an era of instant global communication. "The policy is do the work and don't talk about it," said Robert Chopak, a partner with Washington crisis management firm Chopak, Leonard, Schechter and Associates. "There is no such thing as a local audience anymore. "



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