Richard Millington has a post about how easy it can be to create fake PR – and has some examples to prove it.
His post reminded me of an experience we had last year on a high-profile entertainment PR project we were working on. Having sent out news releases about the subject, we received a number of enquiries from journalists.
In particular one journalist claimed to be from a national publication, and was keen to visit to see more about the story. We entertained him and started negotiations to try to secure some coverage in the publication he claimed to be from.
This dialogue went on for a week or so, but over time we became more suspicious that maybe this journalist wasn’t who he seemed. We always communicated with him through a mobile, and when he called and left a message he always wanted us to call him back.
So a quick call to the main switchboard from the publication he claimed to be from revealed that he wasn’t who he said he was. A bit of web research using Google showed that he hadn’t written some of the coverage he claimed to have.
Alarm bells were ringing loudly by now, and because of some of the negotiations that had taken place we called in the police.
Eventually the fake journalist was arrested and cautioned.
I took some valuable lessons away from the experience for future media relations work:
- Always check the credentials if you’re dealing with a journalist you don’t know
- Always have contact details that include a landline, and ideally a postal address
- Never get carried away with the buzz of a new opportunity – like in the rest of life, if something looks too good to be true it probably is
As Richard notes, it’s pretty straightforward for someone to pretend to be someone they’re not in public relations. The onus is on you to identify who is doing this and protect your interests accordingly.