The futility of whisper campaigns


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Much has been written about how stupid this idea was in the first place, as well as the irony of Burson's response, which basically violated every rule of crisis management. But as a student of blogging culture, what interested me most was the actions of the blogger.

Whisper campaigns are nothing new in PR. As a longtime journalist, I've been on the receiving end of several. The idea of a whisper campaign is to play to the competitive nature of journalism, betting that a reporter will take the bait for a chance to scoop the competition. Although most journalists abhor these tactics, a few will bite.

Not so with bloggers. Outside of the few who write for competitive news blogs, the vast majority of them are motivated by passion for their subject matter, professional recognition or simply the opportunity to share. Few care about competition or exclusivity. Most are all too willing to link to each other's work as a mark of professional courtesy. It's illuminating that Soghoian has not made a single reference to the incident on his blog.

The two former journalists who carried out this campaign must have been stunned by the reaction. They thought the scoop would be irresistible. They learned the hard way that that isn't the case—Not by a long shot.

Consider this story if you're building an influencer relations program. Blogger outreach is becoming a mainstream service of PR firms, and that's a good development. But understand that bloggers differ from journalists in some fundamental ways. Mostly, they're collaborative, collegial and usually very knowledgeable. They don't play the game, and they don't even want to know how the game is played.

Whatever you do, be aware that even your private email communications may become a matter of public record. My best advice on whisper campaigns: run away screaming.

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